The University at Buffalo took a year's worth of frustration, balled it into a fist and whacked Eastern Michigan in the mouth Monday night.
After 13 consecutive losses, the Bulls finally had something to celebrate in the form of a 68-51 victory over the Eagles at Alumni Arena.
A crowd of 787, including former Buffalo Bills head coach Wade Phillips and ex-special teams coach Ronnie Jones, saw UB (3-18, 1-11) notch its first Mid-American Conference win of the season and first in 18 league games dating to a 63-60 decision over Western Michigan on Jan. 26, 2000. The 17-point margin of victory was UB's largest ever in MAC play.
"It does feel good," said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon. "It feels good because we've worked hard enough to win some of those we lost. In some cases, we played better in some of games we lost than in the two games we won previous to this.
"But what was good about this game was the clock didn't run out. We beat them. The guys finished it strong, we defended, took care of the basketball at the end and kept them off the glass. It's a tribute to how hard they worked for 40 minutes."
Forward Robert Brown led the Bulls with 21 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Jason Robinson added 14 points and guard Louis Campbell contributed 13.
"It doesn't feel pretty good," Brown said. "It feels wonderful."
UB didn't play well early, but it got progressively better as the game went on. The game was still in the balance when Eastern Michigan cut UB's lead to 47-43 with 7:59 remaining.
But a three-pointer by Campbell sandwiched between old-fashioned three-point plays by Brown and point guard Davis Lawrence started an offensive explosion that saw the Bulls outscore the Eagles, 21-8, the rest of the way.
"I think Reggie is doing a great job with his team," said Eastern Michigan coach Jim Boone, whose team (3-19, 1-12) had a modest two-game winning streak snapped. "He's got them playing hard, he's got them playing aggressive. In all the tapes I've watched, the one thing I've seen is they really, really play you hard.
"As they were able to garner the lead in the second half, you can see them getting more confident and playing with more effort. Physically, we weren't able to match that."
The Bulls shot a respectable 46.3 percent from the field, but the most telling statistic was the rebounding. They held a commanding 41-22 advantage on the boards, including a 13-3 lead on the offensive end.
"There are certain things you can point to as hustle stats," Boone said. "When you get outrebounded, 41-22, that obviously is an indication of the hustle and the desire involved in their game."
Brown, a 6-foot-4 forward, was dominant on the boards all night as he almost outrebounded the Eagles by himself. He did just that on the offensive glass, grabbing six of UB's 13.
"Coach Spoon never lets me use my height as a disability," Brown said. "He tells me to use it as an ability. They bumped me around a little bit, but I was about to get good position and use my quickness to get to loose balls."
The Bulls' defense also was a factor as they contested shots and made it difficult for Eastern Michigan to execute its offense.
The Eagles shot just 37 percent for the game and were 5 of 22 from three-point range.
"That was important for us," Witherspoon said. "With four minutes to go, the game was still in the balance. We started building defensive pressure and taking pride in it. We still aren't doing what we are capable of doing, but it shows the players that they are capable of defending people for long stretches and they should take pride in it."
The game had an inauspicious beginning. Eastern Michigan led, 24-23, after a brutal half in which both teams showed why they are at the bottom of the MAC standings. The Bulls and Eagles combined for 19 turnovers, many of them unforced, and only 18 field goals in the opening 20 minutes.
The Eagles led most of the first half behind sophomore guard Melvin Hicks, who scored 11 of his 21 points in the first 12 minutes to give his team a 20-12 advantage.
But Hicks was held to only three field goals the rest of the way as Witherspoon used an unlikely source as his defensive stopper.
Little-used freshman Jason Walcott harassed Hicks and forced him into taking a number of forced and hurried shots. After making four of his first six shots, Hicks missed 10 of his last 13.
Walcott scored just one point, but he had four rebounds in 22 minutes, which was double his season total.
"The biggest reason that I tried Jason in the game is because he has been practicing well," Witherspoon said. "I wanted to play him while the game was in the balance because he earned the right by playing defense."
"I was waiting, hoping I'd get my chance," Walcott said. "The last couple of practices, I was just putting it on the line. I got the minutes, and I came through. Maybe not on the offensive end, but all around I put in a lot of hard work and it showed."
UB hopes to keep the momentum going Wednesday when they host Ball State. Brown said the team must not rest on the laurels of one victory. "Coach always says look to the next play. Well, we're now looking to the next game," Brown said. "I'm going to savor this, but we have another game to win on Wednesday night. And it starts in practice (today)."