Jim Boeheim evidently teaches his pupils well. The Syracuse University Hall of Fame coach has been using the 2-3 zone defense since forever, and Louis Orr, his former player and assistant coach, has a similar approach at Bowling Green.
The University at Buffalo had no answers for Bowling Green's zone, which produced numerous turnovers and a poor shooting night for the Bulls, who fell to the Falcons, 59-48, in front of 3,944 Wednesday at Alumni Arena.
The Bulls (17-7, 9-3 Mid-American Conference) dropped back-to-back games for only the second time this season, and the East Division race is heating up. UB remains in first place but Bowling Green, Akron, Miami (Ohio) and Kent State are deadlocked in second place at 8-4.
"The MAC is well-rounded and every night you have to come and play," said UB junior guard Rodney Pierce, the former Hutch-Tech standout. "We can lose any night if we don't come ready to play."
And that's been the case the last two games. UB fell at Ball State, 53-51, on Sunday and now to Bowling Green for the second time this season. Bowling Green (15-10, 8-4) gave UB a taste of its own medicine: good, hard-nosed defense, which was taught to Orr by Boeheim.
"That's my mentor, my coach, that's where I learned it," said Orr, the former Syracuse All-American who graduated in 1980 and served as an assistant under Boeheim in the '90s. "No one plays the 2-3 better than Syracuse."
Boeheim would be proud, at least on Wednesday night when Bowling Green limited the Bulls to 34 percent shooting from the floor -- a frigid 7 of 26 from three-point range -- and 16 turnovers.
"We tried to flow into our offense and usually we're pretty good at it but we struggled with it today," said junior forward Calvin Betts. "That's something we work on in practice, just flowing into our zone offense. We settled for jump shots a lot and we talked about that at halftime."
And that worked in Bowling Green's favor. The Falcons' game plan called for an active zone, and limiting the Bulls' transition baskets. The Bulls scored 82 points in their Jan. 10 loss at Bowling Green and Orr didn't want a repeat of that glorified layup drill. He also wanted to reduce the second-chance points, and the Bulls finished with just 12.
"They played with great determination and focus," Orr said. "It was a tremendous game and win for our players."
The Falcons were able to get dribble penetration early against the Bulls which led to easy baskets. When UB finally closed down the lane, Brian Moten rained jump shots. Moten came off the bench to score a game-high 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting from long range and 8 of 15 overall. The senior from Saginaw, Mich., had just five points on 1-of-7 shooting in the Falcons' loss to Eastern Michigan in their last game.
"He did a great job, he hit some deep ones," said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon. "It was the opposite of the way we shot it. He hit some deep ones."
UB sleepwalked through the first half and trailed, 37-22, at the break. They managed to cut that lead to 48-41 with 9:36 left on a three-pointer by John Boyer. But Bowling Green answered with nine straight points to take a 57-41 lead with 2:11 remaining.
"We only played with energy in spurts," Witherspoon said.
Pierce finished with 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting, and Betts added 10 points for the Bulls, who take a break from MAC play to travel to Vermont (21-7) in a BracketBuster matchup at 1 p.m. Saturday. After a pair of losses within the league, stepping away from the MAC might help.
"Regardless of who we're playing, we've got some work to do," Witherspoon said. "We have to get better."