The rule of thumb that applies to UB senior guard Josh Freelove goes like this: The quieter he’s been, the more noise he’s about to make.
Several times this season Freelove has been a catalyst as UB emerges from halftime looking for a spark. Typically he’ll nail a three to start swinging the momentum. Sometimes he’ll catch a defender by surprise with a forceful drive to the basket. Whatever the means, when the Bulls are in the offensive doldrums Freelove’s often the one to rebound from a mundane, uninvolved first half and get them rolling.
Freelove’s knack for providing a second-half boost was never more pronounced than in Saturday’s 78-55 victory over Miami at Alumni Arena. In the opening 20 minutes he scored just three points and turned it over a team-high three times. After intermission he went 7 of 8 from the field, including 5 of 6 from behind the arc, in a career-high 24-point performance that helped run UB’s winning streak to four games, matching its season high.
The victory, coupled with Ohio’s loss to Kent State, guarantees the Bulls (18-8, 12-4) a top-four overall finish and a bye into the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals. With two games remaining – Tuesday at Akron and home Saturday to Bowling Green – UB remains in contention for a top-two finish and a bye straight to the MAC tourney semis.
The Bulls were the epitome of inconsistency as Miami opened a 30-28 halftime lead. At one point UB led, 18-11. At next blink they trailed, 27-20. The skid ended with a three by Freelove that foreshadowed what was coming in the second half. He hit a mid-range jumper early on. He followed up a Jarod Oldham trey with one of his own, prompting Miami to call time down by 42-35 with 13:44 left.
Nothing changed. Freelove made another three. Then he turned an Oldham steal into a layup. When the RedHawks closed within six, Freelove buried another bomb. And then another, giving him 16 second-half points with eight minutes still to play.
“Freelove hit some tough, tough threes,” said Miami coach John Cooper. “I think he’s a terrific player. It’s no secret that we understand who he is and we got to find a way to defend him. I’m glad he’s graduating.”
Freelove is a key piece of the UB lineup added by coach Bobby Hurley and his staff. Freelove started out at Toledo, transferred to junior college after a coaching change, then landed at Alabama State. When that program encountered academic performance issues he became able to transfer without the usual one-year waiting period. UB offered. Freelove leapt. Why?
“Coach Bobby Hurley,” Freelove said. “He was going to get the most out of my game and he was going to allow me to play ball with no strings holding me back. A lot of what I did today was because he saw that I was having a decent half and then my teammates just found me out there and coach drew up plays to get me open.”
The Bulls have traveled this road before. Freelove scored all 14 of his points in the second half when UB erased a two-point halftime deficit and beat Kent State here. He scored all 10 of his points in the second half when UB pulled away from visiting Northern Illinois. He’s averaging 12.8 points per game.
“Maybe it’s not where he’s having a great feel in the first half, not in a real good rhythm, but then all of a sudden he comes to life,” Hurley said. “And he doesn’t change his demeanor very much. He’s got a poker face out there and it’s hard for me to tell when the explosion’s going to take place. He was something today. It’s fun to see him play that way.”
Javon McCrea (13), Oldham (11) and Will Regan (10) also hit double figures for the Bulls, who shot a resounding 68 percent (17 of 25) in the second half. Sixteen of their 50 second-half points came off turnovers as an intensified defense fueled their transition game.
“Some of them I thought we were just absolutely careless with the basketball,” Cooper said. “But that’s all part of it. When you’re scoring you’re putting pressure on the other team to have to score.”