The University at Buffalo used its defensive quickness to weather a shaky outside shooting night and score a key Mid-American Conference victory over Western Michigan Tuesday.
UB made 12 steals and forced 18 turnovers overall in defeating the defending MAC tournament champions, 77-71.
The Bulls got another great night from junior forward Justin Moss, who scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
But Buffalo managed to win despite off nights by perimeter scorers Shannon Evans and Jarryn Skeete. Evans scored six points, 9.6 under his season average. Skeete had seven on just 2 of 11 shooting.
The victory improved the Bulls to 13-6 overall and 4-3 in the MAC. UB won the MAC East with a 13-5 record last year. A loss would have been damaging to its division title hopes.
Western Michigan fell to 13-7 and 4-3 in the MAC West.
“I think we won at the defensive end tonight with how we guarded and the pressure we put on them,” said UB coach Bobby Hurley.
“We scored in the lane. I thought we were in attack mode. It says a lot about your offense to be able to get 77 when you don’t shoot it well behind the three.”
UB made just 2 of 19 three-point shots. Nevertheless, the inside play of Moss and easy baskets in transition allowed the Bulls to shoot 46.3 percent from the field overall.
UB had a lot of success with half-court traps and double-teams, which forced the Broncos’ ball-handlers into mistakes. Western Michigan was missing its fourth best player, starting small forward Austin Richie, out with an injury.
“I’m not saying that’s going to be our style the whole time, but we felt, particularly with Richie out of the game for them, there was a chance to exert more pressure,” Hurley said.
UB also got a strong game from senior forward Xavier Ford. He scored 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting and had four steals. He also neutralized versatile Broncos forward Connor Tava, who finished with 11 points.
“‘X’ I thought did a terrific job in putting pressure on Tava and making things hard for him,” Hurley said.
“He does a lot of things well,” Ford said of Tava. “I wanted to pressure him when it was necessary to pressure him. If you’re overaggressive, he’ll make the right play.”
Moss was too quick for Broncos center Drake LaMont. Moss made 11 of 18 shots.
“They played to my right a lot and sagged off,” Moss said. “So I felt like the jumper was there. And when they didn’t, when he was up close, I drove it and got to the rim.”
Western got 29 points from star guard David Brown.
UB took command midway through the second half. Trailing by 46-43, the Bulls went on a 18-4 run to take a 61-50 advantage with 7:05 left in the game.
It was fueled by a string of fine defensive stops. UB forced four turnovers in the run. UB forward Rodell Wigginton scored on a driving layup off a turnover to make it 57-50. Then Skeete made his only three-pointer of the game, off another turnover, to make it 60-50.
UB plays another big MAC game Friday night when it hosts Kent State at 10 p.m. (ESPNU) at Alumni Arena. Kent State leads the MAC East Division.
Western Michigan returns four of five starters from last year’s team, which went 23-10 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Broncos were picked to finish second in the MAC West. Broncos coach Steve Hawkins is in his 12th year, making him the most tenured coach in the MAC. He has led the Broncos to seven MAC West titles and six 20-win seasons.