It's been a repetitive season for the University at Buffalo men's basketball team.
Play hard. Come close. Lose game. Repeat.
Three days ago the Bulls finally broke their 13-game losing streak, and on Wednesday they had a chance to win two in a row for the first time since January of last year.
But UB returned to form in a 59-56 loss to Ball State in front of 751 Alumni Arena fans.
The Bulls held four second-half leads, including one with 2:59 to play. They could have won the game in the closing seconds, but Davis Lawrence missed a 15-foot jumper. A Hail Mary three-point try by Damien Foster to tie the game at the buzzer also failed.
It was another gutsy Bulls' effort with nothing to show for it. But the players say their frustrations aren't mounting at the same rate as the losses.
"Whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger," UB forward Robert Brown said. "We're only going to get stronger from this. We'll be back in practice on Friday, and we're going to bounce back."
The Bulls are 3-19 overall and 1-12 in the Mid-American Conference. The record certainly isn't imposing, but it doesn't reflect the potential this team has to make matters uncomfortable for opponents.
Ball State, the MAC's entry into last year's NCAA Tournament, is 12-10, 7-6.
"Most teams when they get through playing us they'll tell you we play with a lot of heart," said UB forward Jason Robinson, who scored a team-high 20 points. "That's something we take pride in."
UB took preseason MAC favorite Marshall into overtime before losing. UB led Akron by 18 before falling at the buzzer. UB played Kent State tough before losing by six.
"I feel that we're a very dangerous team," Robinson said. "Most teams out there are underestimating us because we're (missing) guys or we're undersized or whatever. But we play with a lot of heart.
"We just gotta keep on coming back and working hard. We're right there. We're close, and playoff time is right around the corner, and I think that's what we're starting to prepare for. We want to upset a lot of teams in the playoffs."
After Wednesday night, UB probably wouldn't be a team Ball State would elect to play in the first round of the MAC Tournament.
"I think we came in and survived," said Robbins, who scored 21 points behind 5-of-8 three-point shooting. "It wasn't pretty tonight, but we're going to take it."
Robbins doesn't have enough free throw attempts to qualify among the conference leaders, but when he stepped to the line for a one-and-one opportunity with 11 seconds to play and Ball State guarding a 57-56 lead he was shooting 93 percent.
Robbins clanked his shot off the back of the rim.
Brown grabbed the rebound and, with a chance to win on the final shot and no timeouts left, got the ball ahead to Lawrence. The walk-on point guard quickly forced a shot from the foul line. It was short, and Robbins secured the carom before Lawrence fouled him.
"Davis made a judgment call," Witherspoon said. "But I've seen him make that shot a lot before in practice. He had a good look at the basket. Obviously, we could second guess, and there were other guys open, but he felt like he had a shot."
After Robbins made both foul shots with 2.8 seconds to play, UB inserted walk-on forward Adam Johnson, a junior college transfer who redshirted as a quarterback on the football team last season.
Johnson made a pinpoint, full-court pass to Foster on the baseline in front of the Bulls' bench for a potential game-tying three-pointer. But Foster's shot hit the side of the backboard at the buzzer.
"Buffalo's got a lot to be proud of," Ball State coach Tim Buckley said. "They have a classy group of young men, they play hard, they haven't let their lack of success in the win-loss column affect how they play together.
"They're on to something here. Once they get some depth, they're going to be a very difficult team to play. We didn't expect to come in here and beat them and leave. We knew we would have to battle."
Ball State went on a 14-2 run late in the first half to open up a 12-point lead and eventually went into intermission ahead, 32-22.
But UB tightened up defensively in the second half, limiting Ball State to 35 percent shooting from the floor, including 30 percent from behind the arc.
The Bulls were outrebounded for the game, 36-35, but they held a 20-15 edge in the second half.
"In the second half we were determined to make it difficult for them, and we were determined to keep them from getting second shots," Witherspoon said.