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UB men enter tournament focusing on defensive stops

CLEVELAND – The University at Buffalo is hoping to keep its defensive roll going when it takes the court Friday night for the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference men’s basketball tournament.

UB is the highest-scoring team in the MAC and boasts the MAC’s leading scorer in junior forward Justin Moss.

But its defense has been underrated down the stretch of the season, holding foes to just 40 percent shooting over the last six games.

UB, the MAC’s second-seeded team, plays at 9 p.m. against seventh-seeded Akron. The Zips upset third-seeded Kent State, 53-51, in the late quarterfinal Thursday. UB and Akron split their two meetings this season.

In the early semifinal Friday at 6:30 p.m., Toledo, a 78-67 winner over Eastern Michigan Thursday, will face top-seeded Central Michigan.

Moss, who turned his right ankle in Wednesday’s practice, will play in the game, UB coach Bobby Hurley said Thursday.

“He looked a lot better today, and he’s good to go,” Hurley said.

The key to UB’s bid for its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth?

“I think we need to focus on defense, keeping teams shooting in the 30s, percentage-wise,” Moss said earlier this week. “That’s been a key for us. When we keep teams in the 30 percentile, then we usually win.”

UB ranks seventh in points allowed in conference, at 70.1 a game. But the Bulls play at the fastest tempo in the MAC, so its games have more possessions. In terms of defensive efficiency – or points allowed per 100 possessions – UB is fourth best in the MAC.

“I think the guys are looking at the film and seeing the value of playing defense,” said Hurley. “Maybe they didn’t completely get that early in the year as much as we needed to. But they realize if we get stops, we can get in the open court and play the type of style we’re looking to play.”

Moss is a stout defender in the low post for UB. The Bulls’ two young point guards, freshman Lamonte Bearden and sophomore Shannon Evans, also have the quickness to prevent a lot of dribble penetration. Bearden has been given the toughest backcourt defensive assignments down the stretch of the season. Junior Rodell Wigginton is UB’s defensive specialist on the wing.

Because it received a double bye straight to the MAC semifinals, UB hasn’t played a game in a week, since its regular-season finale against Bowling Green.

Some coaches worry about having a long layoff late in the season.

Hurley was happy about it, in part because he has a short bench. UB plays only eight men.

“Having those extra days to refresh ourselves physically and emotionally I think is really important,” Hurley said. “I spent a lot of time talking with people about the best possible way of bringing your team into this tournament. I’m excited to bring this group to Cleveland. We’ve been in a lot of tough games this year, really battled through a lot of stuff. The extra days help, playing eight guys and having a pretty tight rotation.”

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For the third straight year, the Canisius men will be playing in the CollegeInsiders.com Postseason Tournament (CIT), hosting Dartmouth at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Koessler Athletic Center.

Dust off your nostalgia for this matchup. This marks the sixth time the programs have met but the first since Dec. 27, 1968, when Dartmouth beat the Golden Griffins, 61-58, in Memorial Auditorium. Canisius and Dartmouth have played in the national postseason once before – meeting in the 1956 NCAA Tournament. Canisius earned a 66-58 win in the Palestra in Philadelphia to advance to the NCAA East Regional Final.

Canisius is 16-14 overall after losing to Monmouth in the quarterfinals of the MAAC Tournament last week.

With a 14-14 mark, Dartmouth is making its first national postseason appearance since 1958-59.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com