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The idea that UB could overcome a halftime deficit and win a rivalry game with Javon McCrea reduced to a decoy had seemed out of the question. The Bulls have been struggling to find an offensive rhythm under coach Bobby Hurley’s liberating system. Take McCrea out of the equation and their travails figured to amplify.

And that’s what St. Bonaventure did Saturday afternoon at Alumni Arena. They took McCrea out of the equation. Only this time UB provided an emphatic response and used a late barrage of threes to deal the Bonnies a 78-73 setback before a crowd of 4,652.

This might prove a breakthrough game for UB (4-2) at the offensive end. McCrea, averaging 18.2 per game, scored just two of his 10 after intermission and didn’t have a single official second-half field goal attempt (he was fouled once early). Instead of wilting, UB aced a multiple choice exam on which every answer proved correct.

Four Bulls nailed corner threes during a three-minute blitz that turned a 66-60 deficit into a 72-69 lead with 2:05 remaining. And the four assists came from four different players.

“We pick each other up,” said UB guard Jarryn Skeete. “We help each other. Any given night anybody can go off.”

The decisive sequence began with a Josh Freelove three off a dish from Jarod Oldham. That was followed by a Will Regan three off a pass from Shannon Evans that tied the game at 66 with 4:29 remaining. Charlon Kloof responded from long range for Bona (6-3) but UB drew even again on an Evans bomb set up by Freelove. The Bulls took the lead for good when McCrea kicked it out to Skeete in the right corner to make it 72-69.

Skeete and Evans, the precocious freshman guard, each had 17 points for UB while Freelove added 13. Bona got 17 from Kloof and 16 apiece from Marquise Simmons and Andell Cumberbatch.

While UB found its offense down the stretch, the Bonnies sputtered under trying circumstances. Senior guard Matthew Wright, their leading scorer and top outside threat, did not return after suffering a leg injury with 14:50 remaining and Bona up two. Guard Jordan Gathers was unavailable as he continues to nurse a groin injury.

“We make no excuses,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. “With Jordan and Matthew out, that’s just the way it goes. Injuries are part of the game. But we were inexperienced at the end and that hurt us a little bit.”

Bona came in hoping to minimize McCrea’s impact. It didn’t start out very well. McCrea found room against man-to-man defense early, scoring six of UB’s first 12 points. Bona opted to go zone and McCrea’s chances quickly diminished.

“I thought we did a decent job on McCrea,” Schmidt said. “That was one of the big keys coming into the game. But they had a spurt where they hit four threes in a row and Skeete and Evans really hurt us from the perimeter.”

“When you’re playing a zone defense and playing offense against it you can put the bottom guy in the zone in a bind if you’re running a guy through,” Hurley said. “And we did that a couple times where the back guy in their zone had to make a decision between the wing and the corner and we were able to get that corner shot.”

Bona’s approach dictated UB’s response. In turn, the Bulls served notice that defenses intent on containing McCrea will face challenges from other facets of an offense that’s beginning to find itself.

“We had a couple of passes we need to clean up that he had a good angle,” Hurley said. “If we fed the ball properly I think he would have got a couple chances in the second half.

“But Javon’s an unselfish player and he’s committed to winning and he was as happy as anybody in the locker room to see us win despite not getting his normal amount of shot attempts in the game.”

email: bdicesare@buffnews.com