The University at Buffalo used its defense to grind out a 76-64 victory over Ball State Tuesday night.
The Bulls forced 17 turnovers and held Ball State’s top scorer, Ryan Weber, to three points.
A crowd of 3,522 at Alumni Arena saw the Bulls improve to 11-9 overall and 4-3 in the Mid-American Conference. Ball State, which was 7-23 last season, fell to 13-7 and 4-3.
UB got a superb game from sophomore point guard Lamonte Bearden. He had 18 points, six assists and four steals. Bearden scored on some tough, hanging bank shots in the lane.
The Bulls got 14 points from junior forward Blake Hamilton, 12 from junior wing Willie Conner and 12 from senior guard Jarryn Skeete.
UB threatened to break the game open with a 13-5 run midway through the second half, which gave the Bulls a 52-40 lead. But the Cardinals would not fold. They pulled within 61-58 with 5:48 to go.
Then UB’s offense made a run. Hamilton made a hanging bank shot in the lane. Then Skeete’s good defense forced a turnover. Skeete threw a full-court pass to Bearden, who scored a layup and was fouled on the play. His free throw put UB ahead, 70-59.
Much improved: Ball State looks like the most improved team in the MAC. The Cardinals went 2-16 in conference last season. They were picked to finish last in the MAC West in the preseason coaches poll. But Ball State returned 78 percent of its scoring from last season and added a key transfer, 6-foot-6 wing Ryan Weber. The Cardinals are especially improved on defense. They allowed 46 percent shooting last season. This year they are yielding just 39.9 percent shooting.
Slow start: Both teams started off cold on offense. They combined for only 17 points and made just 5 of the first 20 field-goal attempts in the first nine minutes of the game. But things heated up. UB held a 31-29 advantage at halftime. UB shot 39.3 percent for the first 20 minutes. Ball State shot 39.1 percent. UB was just 2 for 11 from three-point range and Ball State was just 1 for 10.
Ranking: Ball State entered the game No. 158 in the country in the Pomeroy analytics ranking. That’s the highest Ball State has ranked since January 2012. UB was No. 162. Valparaiso’s non-conference strength of schedule was 342nd in the country, while UBB’s was 114th. However, Ball State owns arguably the best win of any team in the MAC this season. The Cardinals beat Valaparaiso, which is among the top 35 by most rankings, in November.
Suspect win: Ball State got lucky in its two-overtime win at Eastern Michigan on Saturday. Ball State was down by two when Eastern Michigan’s Brandon Nazione grabbed a rebound near the corner of his backcourt with about eight seconds to play. Officials made no call as he was fouled repeatedly and Ball State players grabbed the ball to prompt what should have been a jump-ball call. Nazione lost possession and Ball State hit a winning three-pointer at the buzzer. MAC officials Sunday ruled that two of the three referees in the game would be suspended for two games and not allowed to work the MAC Tournament. The MAC did not reveal the officials’ names. The three officials who worked the game were John Caston, Robert Kruger and Todd Williams.
Ro back: UB senior backup forward Rodell Wigginton was back in the lineup. He missed the last two games or personal reasons. Wigginton is averaging 19.9 minutes and 8.8 points. His last five games, he averaged 14 minutes and 4.4 points.
Back seat: Ball State’s 6-6 wingman Sean Sellers won the MAC freshman of the year award last season after averaging 12.2 points a game. However, he has been relegated to a minor role this year due to the emergence of Ryan Weber, a 6-6 junior transfer from Youngstown State. Weber is averaging 12.6 points. Sellers is averaging just 16 minutes and 4.4 points.
Depth: Both teams have nine players averaging 16 or more minutes a game.
Series: Ball State leads the series, 14-12. UB had won five of the last six meetings.
Next up: UB visits Toledo at 7 p.m. Saturday. Toledo center Nathan Boothe is a top player of the year candidate in the MAC.