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UB defense sparks eighth straight win Bulls off to best start of Division I era

This could very well be the University at Buffalo's masterpiece season.

So what if the Bulls' offense doesn't always look like a work of art.

Coach Reggie Witherspoon's squad takes pleasure in making its opponents look absolutely dysfunctional on offense. That attitude has resulted in an historic start for UB.

The Bulls' defense smothered Mid-American Conference guest Northern Illinois, 68-46, on Saturday afternoon much to the delight of the 3,412 fans in Alumni Arena.

Rodney Pierce (Hutch-Tech) scored 15 points to lead UB (16-5, 8-1), which is off to its best 21-game start since joining the Division I in 1991. The Bulls also are on an eight-game winning streak, the second longest during the D-I era.

"It's good it [the record start] happened on Alumni Weekend with a lot of the history of the program here to see it," Witherspoon said. "To have all of the alums here feel connected [to this] . . . I think it's just a great feeling."

UB owes it all to a defense that at times looked like poetry in motion Saturday.

The Bulls made smooth switches, tipped passes that disrupted the Huskies' offensive flow and zealously contested shots. UB held NIU (6-15, 2-7) scoreless over the final 5:26.

The Huskies are the second MAC foe in three games to score fewer than 50 points against the Bulls. UB, which has won 11 of its last 12 games, has allowed 144 points in its last three games, the fewest it has allowed in back-to-back-to-back MAC games since joining the conference in 1998.

That stinginess has allowed the Bulls to survive their own shooting woes (63 for 165 for 38.2 percent) over the past three games.

"We know that's the way to win because even when you're not hitting shots, the only way you can win is getting stops still," said Pierce, as UB missed several open shots in shooting 24 for 63 (38.1 percent) from the floor.

"I think that we really enjoy [playing defense] and that it's genuine," said senior Greg Gamble (Niagara Falls), who grabbed seven rebounds as the Bulls dominated the glass, 44-28. "It's something we've learned to appreciate."

NIU, which shot 18 for 48 (37.5 percent), led only once (2-0) but tried to make a game of it early in the second half, but the Huskies were denied.

Mike Dinunno's layup with 14:24 left pulled NIU within 42-33. He had a chance to make it a seven-point game seconds later after a steal by Bryan Hall. But UB's Calvin Betts thwarted the two-on-one break, emphatically blocking Dinunno's layup try out of bounds.

"Defensively, we've come together as a team," Betts said. "We're not going to stop coming at you."

UB's offense came around after the block with a 13-4 burst over the next 4:17 to eliminate the suspense in earning a rare blowout win.

Andy Robinson had 12 points and seven rebounds as all 11 players that took the court for UB scored.

"I think we've locked into what we need to do to be successful," Witherspoon said. "There's still some things we've got to work out but we want to make it as difficult on our opponents as we possibly can."

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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