The instant Mark Bortz threw down a two-handed dunk off an alley-oop pass from Turner Battle with 1.3 seconds on the clock, there was a detonation of noise from the astounded onlookers to an improbable comeback.
The University at Buffalo was down seven points with 24 seconds left to a determined Fairleigh Dickinson team and on the verge of losing its third consecutive home opener. But Bortz completed the revival of the Bulls with the dunk that tied the game for the first time in nearly four minutes.
Then in overtime, Bortz -- who tied his career high with 24 points -- canned a pair of free throws, giving the Bulls all they needed to win their first game of the season with an 87-84 win on Tuesday in Alumni Arena. The victory was preserved the moment Gordan Klaiber's and Michael Peeples' three-pointers bounced wildly off the rim to end the game.
It was a game in which the Bulls (1-1) should have been led away in handcuffs because they stole one.
Down by 74-67 with 47 seconds and no timeouts after a Tamien Trent free throw, the Bulls leaned on their experience and missed free throws by the Knights to painstakingly overcome Fairleigh Dickinson's slim lead. In a dramatic turn of events, a Bulls team that specializes in the implausible -- usually on the losing end -- was at its dramatic best. Some of the 2,783 in attendance had already left the building, and they were not pleased with a Bulls team that has enjoyed enough preseason ink to wallpaper a house.
"Neither was I," said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon.
At least not until the Bulls forced the game into overtime. First Bortz scored on a dunk and after a foul, Trent missed a free throw. Then Battle, who missed Monday's practice with pinkeye and didn't start for the first time in his career, took the ball hard to the basket to cut the lead to three. Following a foul, the Knights' Chad Timberlake missed two free throws with 11.6 seconds to swing the door wide open for UB. The Bulls raced down court for a three-pointer and Daniel Gilbert was fouled behind the three-point line with 3.2 seconds left. Hit three free throws and send it into overtime? Nah, too easy.
Gilbert missed the first, made the second and missed the third on purpose and it was knocked out of bounds by Fairleigh Dickinson (1-3). That set up Battle's inbounds lob to Bortz, who tied the game at 74.
"We've run that play in the past and we've run it a lot in practice," said Bortz, who also had nine rebounds. "We didn't run it all last year but I'm familiar with the play and it's worked before so I'm not surprised at all that it worked."
Fairleigh Dickinson coach Ron Brown said he knew it was coming, but failed to call a timeout to prevent it.
"Saw it coming from left field," he said. "I told the team afterwards that I take full responsibility for the loss because I should have called a timeout and didn't. I've seen that play before."
In overtime, the Bulls took the lead for good on a Calvin Cage three-pointer that rattled out and back in. The Knights cut the lead to one twice, the final time on a three-pointer with 33 seconds left by Peeples. But Bortz's free throws proved to be the difference.
Still, the Bulls got away from what made them successful last season: defense, rebounding and free-throw shooting. The Knights shot 63 percent from the floor in the second half and outrebounded the Bulls, 47-35. Buffalo was 8 of 15 from the free throw line in the second half, including a pair of misses from Battle with 57 seconds left and the Bulls trailing, 73-67.
"We still have to be a blue-collar team," Witherspoon said. "We preach that every day in practice or else it just slips away. It's fool's gold."
Battle added 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while Cage dropped in 16. The Knights were led by Klaiber with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Junior swingman Mario Jordan didn't play after halftime and sophomore Yassin Idbihi sat for most of the second half because of ineffective play.