Mitchell Watt already had seven blocked shots when Kent State's Rodriquez Sherman tried to swoop in for a layup, so perhaps Sherman should have known better. Watt rejected the shot to ignite a University at Buffalo fast break that ended, rather emphatically, with Watt throwing down a two-handed jam.
And, rather emphatically, UB easily dispatched Kent State on Wednesday night, 79-54, in front of 2,122 at Alumni Arena. In yet another example of the craziness that's called the Mid-American Conference East Division, UB (10-6, 2-2) put together a stunning defensive effort and rode the cold-blooded shooting of senior point guard Byron Mulkey, who finished with a career-high 27 points to surprisingly run the Golden Flashes (11-7, 2-2) out of the building.
"It definitely wasn't easy, I will say that," said Mulkey, who made things easier for the Bulls by scoring 21 of his points in the first half. "I guess that's a testament to the performance we had. Possession in and possession out, it's a lot of hard work and we stepped up to the challenge and performed very well."
The Bulls, who led by as many as 27 points, have now won three of their last four meetings against Kent State, who were in second place in the East at the start of the game. UB was in sole possession of fourth place in the division at the start, but now have victories over Akron and Kent State heading into its game Saturday at Ohio University.
The Bulls took control of the game early in the first half and never let up. With seven minutes remaining in the game and the Bulls up by 27, the UB student section chanted toward the Kent State bench, "Thanks for practice."
Above all, it was the Bulls' defensive effort that shined, holding Kent State to 33.3 percent shooting for the game. Guard Randal Holt was the lone starter to shoot above 50 percent (6 of 10 for 16 points) while leading scorer Justin Greene finished with 15 points on 4-of-14 shooting while fighting through the Bulls' swarming double teams.
"I thought defensively they pushed us out on the floor further than where we wanted to be," Kent State coach Geno Ford said. "They forced some turnovers that we don't typically have. I thought they played at a high level and that's as well as we've had a team play against us all year."
That's sweet music to the Bulls, who pride themselves on compassionless defense.
"I thought our guys locked in pretty well," UB coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "In this one we sustained [the defensive effort] pretty good and it was good to get to where our opponent shot a low percentage."
Watt was the catalyst. The 6-foot-10 junior's eight blocks are the third most in school history for a single game.
There was nothing easy for Kent State on Wednesday. The backcourt of Mulkey and Zach Filzen didn't allow Kent's guards to get to the basket easily and closed off quickly on their pull-up jump shots and three-point attempts. That forced Kent to try to score in the paint, where Watt was hovering like a beat cop.
"Our defense puts them in that position," Watt said. "We like to cut down space and I just clean it up. I have to give my teammates a lot of credit of not allowing them to get to the basket easy."