In order for the University at Buffalo to earn its fifth consecutive victory -- which it did in a physical, 63-52, win over Northern Illinois -- the Bulls had to try and lock down the Huskies' Xavier Silas.
Silas, son of former San Antonio Spurs great James Silas, came into Saturday's game at Alumni Arena as the nation's second-leading scorer behind BYU's Jimmer Fredette at 24.4 points a game. He finished with 20 points but earned most of them from the free-throw line (12 of 13). He was just 4 for 15 from the field including 0 for 3 from three-point range.
"I was taking shots that I usually make but this was one of those days where they didn't go in," Silas said. "[Zero] for 3 from the three-point line and 4 for 15 from the field -- it's kind of one of those days."
Silas has enjoyed his fair share of scoring outbursts this season: 25 points against Northwestern, 34 against DePaul, 40 against Illinois-Chicago, 27 against Temple and 39 last Wednesday night in an upset over Akron. But nothing came easy for Silas against the Bulls (13-6, 5-2 Mid-American Conference), who were led by Zach Filzen's 21 points, including 5 for 8 from three-point range. Senior Byron Mulkey (Niagara-Wheatfield) added 19 points and four assists.
"I thought we did a good job of making it difficult for Silas," UB coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "He got to the line a lot but 4 for 15 from the field is tough to force him into because he doesn't have a lot of games like that."
Although Fredette torched the Bulls for 34 points back on Dec. 30 -- nothing to be ashamed of because he's done that to just about everyone else -- Witherspoon thought that playing against the national player of the year candidate prepared them for Silas.
"When guys score that much, they're going to look to get shots all the time," Witherspoon said. "If they pass it, they're looking to get it back and score. They're always looking to come after you and you always have to be alert. I think that helped our mindset a little bit, understanding that this guy is going to attack you every time he gets a chance."
The Bulls didn't try any gimmick defenses against Silas. They trapped on ball screens and doubled when he caught the ball in the low post. The only wrinkle the Bulls showed was in the second half when freshman guard Jarod Oldham guarded Silas full court in an attempt to take him and the Huskies (7-12, 3-4) out of their offensive tempo. Silas' father was nicknamed "The Late Mr. Silas" because he was at his best in late-game situations and Xavier scored 13 points in the second half so he wasn't totally shut down.
"We wanted to make it extremely difficult for him," Mulkey said. "Every shot, make sure it's a tough shot. Like coach said, he's going to make some and that's expected from a great scorer. He got to the line a little more than we wanted him to but we wanted to make things difficult for him and the team."
Northern Illinois coach Ricardo Patton said he thought Silas got some good looks, they just didn't fall.
"When teams double him and get the ball out of his hands, when we've had success other players have stepped up and made teams pay for doing that," he said. "We didn't do that here."
Nate Rucker, the team's third-leading scorer, didn't take a shot and was scoreless while fourth-leading scorer Jeremy Landers was 0 for 2 from the floor and finished with three points, all free throws.
The Bulls next host Toledo (4-16, 1-5) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Alumni Arena.