Who knew within the body of the 6-foot-7 Javon McCrea resides the heart of a point guard? Who knew that the player poised to move into the top three on the school’s all-time scoring list derives more satisfaction out of an assist than a basket of his own? And who would have figured that UB, which has ridden McCrea’s offensive exploits throughout much of his first three seasons, would be all the more dangerous during a senior season that could earn him a nomination for Best Supporting Player?
McCrea was a big part of UB’s second-half offensive explosion Saturday night but didn’t have all that much in the way of points to show for it. Instead he happily filled the role of facilitator, particularly for front-line mate Will Regan, and matched his season high of five assists in a 71-60 conquest of Kent State that has UB tied with Akron atop the Mid-American Conference East.
With Kent intent on slowing McCrea but manhandling and double-teaming him underneath, UB’s 1,700-point scorer acquiesced instead of forcing the issue. The chief beneficiary was Regan, who set a personal regular-season best by scoring 25 points to go with a game-high 10 rebounds and two blocks. It all came after Kent parlayed Regan’s only two turnovers into its first two baskets of the night.
Josh Freelove added 14 for the Bulls and combined with Regan to score UB’s first 20 points after the half. Down two at intermission, UB led, 47-40, at the end of that onslaught and never was seriously threatened thereafter. McCrea kicked to Regan for the three that got it started, knocking a five-point deficit to 34-32 1:40 into the second half. He later assisted on the Freelove three that put UB ahead for good at 37-36.
“I knew they were going to come out and double-team me and I know Will’s a good shooter and Freelove’s a good shooter so I wanted to set them up,” McCrea said. “I like to set my teammates up. For some reason I like it more than scoring.”
Regan’s offensive capabilities shot to the fore when he dumped 36 on Ball State last March in the MAC Tournament. He’s a tough guard for an opposing big guard or forward because at 6-8 he can work the inside while also taking his game behind the arc. He was 8 of 15 from the field, including 3 of 6 from three.
“It was frustrating the first half because I had a couple turnovers and got in foul trouble real quick and didn’t have the time to get in a rhythm,” Regan said. “Credit my teammates with playing good defense and keeping us in the game. And the second half I just hit some shots and got it going.”
“They have a good feel for each other and playing off each other,” Bulls coach Bobby Hurley said of Regan and McCrea. “The time they’ve spent together over the years you can see they have that where they just have a feel for where they are.”
UB’s defensive play shouldn’t be overlooked as it improved to 9-5 overall and 3-1 in the MAC. The Bulls came in ranked 11th nationally in three-point defense at 28 percent and held Kent to 27.3 from long range (6 of 22). Jarod Oldham played a big part in that.
Hurley said Oldham “is always there with his leadership and his ball pressure and it has an effect, an accumulative effect, on the opposing guards. There’s no one I’ve been around that pressures the ball as well as Jarod that I’ve seen in college basketball and have had a chance to work with. That does wonders for your team, for your whole defense.”
UB has won five of its last six, the lone blemish being Wednesday’s 67-65 loss at Toledo. They also got off the Kent State schneid after dropping three to the Golden Flashes last season.
Said Hurley: “It’s fun to see a team that’s getting better and improving and that’s what I’ve been watching.”