Miami's scouting report on the University at Buffalo pointed out that UB's transition defense is vulnerable, but even the RedHawks were surprised how effortlessly they beat the Bulls for layups.
Easy baskets enabled the RedHawks to build a 19-point, second-half lead, and although the Bulls rallied late, Miami (Ohio) made its free throws and held off UB, 81-74, in front of 5,038 Saturday in Alumni Arena.
The Bulls trailed the Mid-American Conference game, 53-34, with 9:22 remaining and 68-50 with 5:04 left. They slowly started to chip away at Miami with pressure defense that finally caused the RedHawks to misfire. With 30 seconds left, UB freshman Sean Smiley cut the lead to 77-71 with a layup. After William Hatcher made a free throw with 28 seconds remaining, Mario Jordan missed a three-pointer from the top of the key and Josh Hausfeld made a pair of free throws to ice the game for Miami.
Fatigue may be settling in on an already short bench for UB.
"Our lack of energy didn't give us a chance at all," said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon. "We didn't have enough energy to compete at all with this team."
Lack of depth and a shortened rotation is a concern for Witherspoon. Senior Mario Jordan started in place of junior forward Parnell Smith, who didn't practice Friday or Saturday because he's still hampered by a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss four games.
Smith injured the ankle in the Bulls' Jan. 7 loss at Northern Illinois, and UB is 4-6 since the injury. Before then, Witherspoon had a steady rotation of eight, the Bulls were 11-1 and Smith was averaging 11.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Since his return Jan. 24, Smith's averages are down to 5.2 points and 2.2 rebounds.
Saturday, Miami's Nathan Peavy blocked one of Smith's shots without jumping. What's worse is Witherspoon said Smith reinjured the ankle during the game.
"I wish I had a magic wand to wave him back to health," Witherspoon said about Smith, who scored two points in 14 minutes. "We've been in need of a guy to add to the rotation, and we can't seem to find him."
At times, Witherspoon is able to steal some minutes from Vadim Fedotov, but the 6-foot-10 freshman injured his knee in practice Thursday and didn't play Saturday. Fedotov had an MRI on Friday and is awaiting results. The Bulls (15-7, 5-6) got something from Smiley, who had scored seven points all season but dropped in 10 on Saturday, but someone else has to step up.
Until one of the other underclassmen emerges (Andrew Atman? Christian Schmidt? Eric Moore?), Jordan and fellow seniors Calvin Cage and Roderick Middleton are forced to play major minutes. Witherspoon was able to look to his bench a year ago and find the experienced Jordan, Cage and Middleton but doesn't have that luxury now.
The Bulls had five players in double figures Saturday, led by Cage's 20 points. Freshman Greg Gamble scored a career-high 13 points off the bench, and Jordan and Middleton each added 12. Miami held forward Yassin Idbihi to a season-low three points on 1-of-10 shooting in 21 minutes.
Peavy and Tim Pollitz were usually first in Miami's layup drill. Peavy scored 22 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, both game highs, and shot 9 of 12 from the floor. Pollitz was 9 of 10 for 20 points and five rebounds before fouling out. Hatcher had 14 points and 11 assists for Miami (12-8, 9-3), which won its third consecutive game.
"We knew one of their weaknesses was transition defense," Hatcher said. "I was surprised how when we were down the floor, there wasn't a Buffalo player back there."