Buffalo's Tuesday night game against Iona marked the team's 34th game this season, most for any UB men's basketball team. It also marked the Bulls' third postseason game, the most since joining Division I.
So after tired legs hindered the Bulls in a 78-63 loss to Iona that ended their season, coach Reggie Witherspoon was quick to remind everyone about the team's low expectations heading into the season.
"This was a team with just two seniors that was said to come in last place in our league," Witherspoon said. "Being in the postseason for the second time in three years is quite an accomplishment."
The Bulls, playing their third straight road game, followed a hot first half with an inability to score in the second. Iona (24-11), found comfort in a slower game and rode the hot shooting of junior guard Jermel Jenkins to build the final 15-point margin in the collegeinvitational.com tournament quarterfinal at Hynes Athletic Center.
"Our 20 turnovers that turned into 28 points off of turnovers didn't help our field-goal percentage defense, that's for sure," Witherspoon said.
Buffalo (20-14) went into the locker room at halftime down 41-36 after a 5-0 Iona run closed the half. The lead had changed hands six times in the back-and-forth half as Buffalo shot 14 of 28 and made 4-of-6 three-point shots. Iona was also effective from beyond the arc, making 7 of 14.
It was a good sign after UB managed just 49 points in its one-point win over Western Michigan on Saturday, but fatigue prevented the Bulls from maintaining that production level.
The second half started slower in pace and sloppier in play. Iona committed four fouls and numerous turnovers in the first six minutes, but Buffalo returned the favor with missed shots and turnovers.
After UB fell behind by eight, senior guard Byron Mulkey began a a rally with a three-pointer to make it 46-41. Freshman forward Javon McCrea, who dominated Iona's experienced front line for 27 points and 10 rebounds, followed with two baskets to bring UB within three points, 48-45.
That was as close as the Bulls were to get, however. Iona countered by abolishing its full-court press defense and played a zone the remainder of the game. McCrea continued his dominance, but the rest of the Bulls could not help their young forward. Buffalo shot just 40.7 percent and was outscored, 37-27, in the second half.
Iona's zone defense halted Buffalo's rhythm, but it was unforced turnovers that ended Buffalo's season.
"I thought we could rebound the ball and get good shots in the second half, but you can't defend your errors," Witherspoon said.
The loss ended the careers of Mulkey and senior forward Jawaan Alston. Mulkey finished 12 points, four rebounds and a team-high five assists. Alston came off the bench to score seven points and grab four rebounds.
"The turnovers were very unforced," Mulkey said. "That was the biggest part of the game."
As Buffalo focused on All-MAAC forward Mike Glover with a packed zone, Jenkins found shooting room throughout the second half. Jenkins' three with 8:08 left in the game put Iona up, 59-49. Buffalo got no closer than nine after that. Jenkins finished 7 of 11 from beyond the arc and scored a team-high 23 points.
"We made some errors in getting to spots on the floor," Witherspoon said. "When we made errors, they made us pay."