Bowling Green's Martin Samarco loaded up for a three-pointer when Mario Jordan darted through a gap and sent the shot flying away like a piece of popcorn. Jordan was on his way, soaring solo down the court, ponytail dangling behind him and the Alumni Arena crowd ushering his course to the basket.
His excursion ended with a ferocious dunk, a foul by Brian Guerin, flexed muscles and a conventional three-point play that sent the 3,888 in Alumni to one of its highest decibel levels of the season. It's been awhile, perhaps a bit too long, since Jordan and the University at Buffalo played with this kind of vigor.
On an afternoon that began with anxiety and the Bulls sleepwalking through most of their previous eight games, Jordan arrived as the perfect pick-me-up. Delivering 19 points (6 of 7 from the field, 7 of 8 from the line), 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in 27 minutes, Jordan relieved some of the fatigue and stress his team was under by pushing UB toward a stirring 81-67 victory over Bowling Green on Sunday afternoon.
Said Jordan about the block-dunk-flex: "I just happened to get a hand on it, and it went into the backcourt. You saw the rest."
Had the 6-foot-6 senior from Cleveland not been plagued by foul trouble, Jordan could have flirted with a triple-double.
"We need his energy to energize us," said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon. "If he's able to energize us, we have to embrace that as a team. There's a possibility for us to have an advantage when he plays with that kind of energy."
The victory helped dig the Bulls out of a late-season funk and perhaps give them some postseason security for a home game in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. The Bulls (17-11, 7-9 MAC), currently the No. 8 seed, have a two-game lead over Ball State and Bowling Green (9-18, 5-11) with two games remaining. A win Wednesday against Akron (12-3) on Senior Night will clinch the Bulls a first-round home game for the third consecutive season.
A loss Sunday would have been devastating, so Witherspoon tinkered with the lineup once again. A bigger lineup matched up better against Bowling Green, so Jordan started at small forward along with juniors Yassin Idbihi and Parnell Smith on the front line and senior Calvin Cage and Roderick Middleton in the backcourt.
They blended well, especially on the inside, where Jordan slithered to the basket on backdoor cuts and Idbihi pounded the glass and scored on jump hooks and putbacks. Idbihi finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bulls outrebounded the Falcons, 38-29, and took full advantage of the free-throw line, canning 32 of 39, which tied for the most free throws made in school history. It was clearly the Bulls' best outing since Jan. 26, when they defeated Ohio, 70-51. Since then, Buffalo has won just two of nine.
UB's defense clicked so well that even mistakes were erased. It was Cage, not Jordan, who was supposed to jump out on Samarco's three-point attempt, but Cage got caught on a screen. At the time, UB led, 69-59, with 1:54 remaining, and a Samarco trey cuts the advantage to single digits.
"I was yelling for somebody to get out there," said Cage, who scored a team-high 21 points and became the sixth UB player to score over 500 points in a season. "I just saw 'Rio taking off full speed."