Extra points from the University at Buffalo’s 88-74 MAC semifinal victory over Ohio University Friday night:
AKRON 3-BALLS: UB faces a similar challenge Saturday night in the title game against Akron. Like Ohio, Akron has a good big man. Akron center Isaiah “Big Dog” Johnson is a 6-foot-10, 295-pound junior. He leads Akron at 13.3 ppg and gets 7.6 rebounds. He’s not as good a scorer as Ohio’s MAC Player of the Year, Antonio Campbell, but he asserts his presence inside better. And like Ohio, Akron shoots the three, only better.
Akron ranks No. 2 in the nation in 3-attempts (31.2) and 3-makes (12.1) per game. Akron leads the nation in the percentage of points it gets from 3 – 45.9.
PACE: UB wants the game more up-tempo than Akron. The faster the game goes, the harder it is for Big Dog to get down-court and catch up to the action . . . and the more tired he gets.
GOOD GAME PLAN: Credit the UB coaching staff with coming up with a good plan to defend Ohio’s perimeter screen game in the semifinal. Ohio’s fine point guard, Jaaron Simmons, ran through screens, penetrated the lane, and killed the Bulls in Ohio’s 103-96 OT win two weeks ago.
Friday night, Willie Conner (and CJ Massinburg to a lesser degree) did a great job fighting through screens, but the UB big men (Smart or Perkins) flashed out onto Simmons for a moment to give Conner a chance to recover through the screen and get back into position. Then the big men had to race back to the low middle before Simmons could dump a pass to the screener (usually Campbell). They did, and Simmons was kept out of the lane.
UB coach Nate Oats explained the situation, giving some credit to assistant Donyell Marshall. This ball-screen defense is more complicated than the average fan might think.
Said Oats: “So the second game, we did not show with our bigs, we didn't have our bigs helping the ball screen. Simmons went off, so that obviously didn't work. So we needed them to show a little bit just to get by us a second to get our guards through without letting Simmons get in the paint but still get back. The problem is they've got shooters, they usually put three shooters with those two guys out there, so then you got to hold the lane, waiting for your big to get back, so our big didn't sprint back. Then they line it up with a shooter. Simmons, he ended up with nine assists or eight assists tonight. He sees the floor really well, so they kind of put you in a bind that way, but we felt like that was our best option. And Coach Marshall's scout, I think it helps the fact that he's played 15 years in the NBA and seen every conceivable ball screen coverage you could possibly see in those years. We talked through all of them. Actually the last two games, we probably had eight different coverages going into the game down there that we worked on in practice, we narrowed it down. Probably used four or five of them. Then tonight we really only went to - I think we just used two of them tonight, kind of figured out what we want to do and that worked a lot better than what we had been using in the past.”
COMING UP SMALL: The disappointing performance of Friday night was by Ohio’s Campbell. He had 16 points but only 5 in the second half. He was 7 of 17 from the field, but was 2 of 7 from three-point range. He has a nice outside shot, but c’mon. The veteran POY is going against two freshmen big men. He needed to assert himself. Was he demanding the ball in the low post? No. His body language wasn’t good. He was more interested in getting it behind the arc.
Oats was asked if he was relatively happy to see Campbell standing 20 feet from the basket:
“That's definitely true, he shot 17 shots, seven of them were 3s, that means that only ten of them were inside, which is a good thing.”
BIG DOG: Johnson’s grandfather, Walter Johnson, starred as an offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns from 1965 to 1976. He’s in the Browns Hall of Fame. Big Dog was a good football player in high school, too.
YOUNG BIGS: UB’s young big men – red-shirt freshman Ikenna Smart (6-10) and freshman Nick Perkins (6-8) – again must play decent for UB. Not great, but decent. Perkins gave UB 14 points and five boards in 24 minutes vs. Ohio. Smart had 2 boards no points and 11 minutes, but he was physical with Campbell. If they can stay out of early foul trouble and combine for 35 minutes, 10 points and 10 boards, UB is in great shape.
BULLS HOT: UB hit 14 of 27 three-pointers after making 11 of 25 Thursday night. That’s 25 of 52 (.480) over two games. UBB shot .331 from three during the season. Does UB have another good outside shooting game in it?????? One reason the threes went down so well was most of them were wide open shots because UB moved the ball so well and got in transition.
I’ll be surprised if tonight’s finale is played in the 80s. Akron will do at least a bit better job slowing UB down.
CRYSTAL UPDATE: Crystal Oats, the wife of the UB coach, is battling lymphoma and is not in Cleveland. She recently completed a course of chemotherapy. Doctors say the treatments have been effective and they are optimistic about her recovery. However, her white blood cell count was down and she was weakened by the chemotherapy treatments, so she was taken to the hospital this weekend to recover.
BLAKE HOT: Ohio hit seven of its first nine shots to open the second half, and three of them were treys. But the run only cut UB’s lead from 12 to seven because Blake Hamilton hit three threes in the first three minutes.
Willie Conner was the start of the night for UB, but Hamilton continues to be the stir that mixes the drink for UB.
Said Hamilton: “You know, Coach Oats and Lamonte, they did a great job of the the way they guarded our ball screen, with me and Lamonte ball screen, they kind of stayed with Lamonte a little bit longer. Coach Oats did a great job in trying to get me involved in the second half. I didn't score at all in the first half. He did a great job of trying to get me going, and I got going, the rest is history.”
SUPER MONTE: Finally, UB point guard Lamonte Bearden was sensational and won his battle with fellow super soph Simmons. Bearden had 15 points, nine assists one turnover, six rebounds, three steals and made two three-pointers. Monte was 5 of 15 from the field.
Simmons was 6 of 19 with 15 pints, eight assists, three turnovers, two boards and no steals.
Said Bearden: “It is always a great matchup when you play against him. I didn't play against him one game but he's a pretty talented guard and it does make it bring fire to my eyes. . . . We just wanted to get better at the end of the year, that's all. We had guys that worked really hard and was looking forward to this MAC play. We just came in and got the job done.”