Extra points from the University at Buffalo’s 94-81 victory over Miami Ohio Thursday night in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals:
Going Deep: UB made 11 of 25 three-pointers (.440) against Miami, a better-than-normal performance. The Bulls probably are going to need another good shooting night to beat second-seeded Ohio Friday at 9 in the semifinals. UB ranked only 10th in the MAC in three-point shooting this season at .331. The Bulls averaged 7.1 makes and 21.5 attempts per game. Let’s call Ohio a 5-point favorite.
Streaky: While UB isn’t a great perimeter shooting team, Thursday’s showing wasn’t a total aberration. The Bulls have been streaky. They hit 10 of 23 vs. Kent, 10 of 25 at Northern Illinois, 10 of 23 vs. Central Michigan – all good wins during the regular season.
Unstuck: One reason UB hit from the outside so well was its quality looks. The Bulls moved the ball brilliantly. Willie Conner (25 points) had a bunch of wide-open shots.
Good scouting: Credit UB coach Nate Oats and his staff with good pre-game preparation in getting the team to avenge the whipping Miami put on the Bulls 10 days previously on UB's Senior Night. And credit point guard Lamonte Bearden with moving the ball around much better.
“I thought we as a staff probably did a lot better job preparing them this time, and then they did a lot better job,” said Oats. He wasn’t taking credit as much as taking part of the blame for the bad L in the previous meeting.
Good recruiting: Credit Oats and UB assistant coach Bryan Hodgson with scoring two recruiting coups out of the junior college ranks last offseason. Californian Blake Hamilton and Willie Conner, from Chicago via Florida and Texas, have played brilliantly this season. It’s not easy for a Juco player to fit in seamlessly right away. Obviously, a lot of good Jucos contribute, but it’s common for them to have a shaky feel for what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot. Hamilton averaged 12.9 and Conner 11.5. They're both smart players.
Said Miami coach John Cooper after the game: “They had some kids that made some shots and they played well. I mean, you look at Conner and you look at Hamilton and you think about two young men that are coming in that are junior college kids and the way they played with the consistency that they have played with this year, I won't say it's unusual, but I think it's more impressive for those guys to stick up in this game at this time of the year and to pop their head up, as I say, that says a lot about them as people and who they are, their abilities.”
Channeling Curry: Shot of the game had to be Bearden’s three-pointer from beyond the top of the key – 27 feet for sure, during UB’s fast start to the second half. Conner had hit two threes to open the half (one on a pretty drive and kick by Hamilton). Then Bearden fired away. No-no-no-yes! What?! The defender wasn’t within 6 feet of him. Bearden was 12 of 51 from three this year.
“I saw Willie, I saw Willie firing away, and it gave me momentum,” Bearden said.
Said Oats: “You know what? He's really not as bad a shooter as his percentages say. He can make shots, he just doesn't like to shoot them for some reason. He can get to the rack kind of on anybody. It was rolling at the time. I didn't say much. The one he missed, I was a little more upset about than the one he made. The one he made was a little deeper.”
Actually, Bearden has a decent-looking release on his outside shot. And he hits a quality 76.8 percent from the free throw line. So if he works hard on the three this offseason, there’s no reason he can’t improve on it. Too bad UB can’t have Bearden spend the entire offseason working with Bona point guard Jay Adams, whose work has given his game a quantum leap.
Scouting Ohio: Said Oats: "Hopefully we can shoot the ball well. Ohio's maybe the best shooting team in the league right now. They were on fire today. Ohio's not a team you're going to hold down in the 50s, you're going to have to put some points up. Hopefully our shooting will continue. I thought our ball screen defense, that was a huge problem the last time we played Miami, and Ohio runs a million ball screens a game. Simmons comes off them and makes all the right plays, they've got shooters spaced all over the floor."
Swiss Army weapon: UB got the ball to Hamilton in the middle of the zone against Miami, and that may be key against Ohio. The offense looks great when it runs through Hamilton. He had 11 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three turnovers and a steal. The Swiss Army knife at work.
The last time he had 16 reounds? “Like in high school. No, you know, tonight wasn't my night shooting but like Oats said, I got the ball in the middle, and that's one thing about my game, my versatility, I feel I'm a versatile player, and I can get the ball on the rebound, push it down the court, find one of my open teammates. Like we did a great job hitting shots today, getting to the basket, and that's what we capable of. If we keep that up, you know, we going to be a tough out.”
O-for-2: UB laid an egg in the first loss to Ohio (94-75) but came back and played a great game in the second, losing in OT (103-96). And the Bulls were a victim of some home cooking. Ohio was 35 of 49 from the line! Ohio center Antonio Campbell is the MAC player of the year. UB is going to need some decent minutes from young posts Ikenna Smart and Nick Perkins.
Oats: “At their place, we held him, I don't know if it was the lowest point total he had all year, but he didn't score much on him at their place. They got scoring from other spots that game. I thought defensively we did a halfway decent job on them down there. We just gave some stuff away late in that game. So I don't know if we hold Campbell down as low as we did at their place but hopefully we can keep him under control somewhat. He's good, obviously he's Player of the Year in the conference, so we've got to do a really good job. Our bigs have been good defensively, offensively they're just a little behind. They're all new. Two of the three are freshmen with Ikenna and Nick, but defensively Ikenna was good tonight defensively, too.”
Hot water: Miami coach John Cooper got his team to post four upsets in the last six games. But he’s in trouble after four years at the helm and a 48-79 record. Now consider he graduates eight seniors from this team and had no freshmen on the roster. I like Cooper. He proved this year he’s a quality game coach. But his recruiting has him on thin ice.
Cooper: “Quite frankly, they beat us really in all phases of the game when you look at the numbers, the way they shot the ball from the field, the way they shot it for 3, they out rebounded us. I thought they played a complete game and we were never, ever able to overcome their start in the second half. Once they stretched it, we could never get it back down. I think when you take a look at the score in the first half we were down by six and quite frankly we had not played well, which you have to attribute a lot of that to them. That can also be a good thing in that we're heading out in the second half, had not played very well but yet we were still in the game. But we just didn't have it tonight. I thought our energy was there, but we just didn't make the plays tonight. And a lot of that goes towards Buffalo. They were obviously ready to go after we beat them about a week ago, they made some adjustments to the things they were doing and they took the game on.”