The strong position the University at Buffalo held at the midpoint of the Mid-American Conference basketball season has begun to crumble.
The Bulls suffered their largest home MAC loss since 2004 by getting blown out by Ohio University, 94-75, Friday night at Alumni Arena.
It was the Bulls’ second straight home loss and dropped them out of sole possession of second place in the MAC. The Bulls are among a logjam of teams chasing first-place Akron (9-2).
Ohio moved into a tie with UB at 7-5 in the MAC. Kent State is 7-4. Three other teams (Toledo, Central Michigan and Ball State) have six wins.
It was a rout from the start. UB trailed by 16 at halftime and by 20 or more for most of the second half. Ohio made 14 of 25 three-point shots.
“That was embarrassing,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “We didn’t come out ready to play. We’re down some numbers. Guys are a little banged up. … We just talked to the guys. They’ve got to look themselves in the mirror. Are you going to be a high-character guy or a low-character guy? You gonna come out and fight for the team? I think we have some good high-character kids. They can bounce back.”
No Bearden: UB’s offense struggled without sophomore point guard Lamonte Bearden, the team’s leading scorer who sat on the bench for a second straight game due to a suspension for violating team rules. He’s out for the next game, too.
UB had trouble getting penetration into the lane. Ohio did a good job of collapsing inside and forcing UB to kick out for three-point shots, which is not the Bulls’ strength.
Said Oats: “Not having Bearden obviously hurts the flow of everything. Even when they collapse, he’s able to get in there anyways and he can find the right guys. … So I think we miss Lamonte a little bit more than we maybe thought we were going to since we had gone 2-0 without him early in the season.”
Hangover? UB suffered a last-second, 71-69 loss to Toledo on Tuesday. Oats thought it affected his team.
Said Oats: “That loss to Toledo I think put us in a little bit of a tailspin. I didn’t realize it was as bad as it was until tonight’s game. Had we been able to win that game, not give it away at the end, I think our mindset would have been a little better coming out tonight.”
Senior guard Jarryn Skeete said he didn’t sense a hangover.
“I think the inexperience and the youngness of our team may be getting to us right now in the stretch,” he said. “It’s snowing a lot. School just started, we’re three weeks back. Classes got going. I just think guys need to figure out that it’s never going to be easy. Just because we were 7-3 teams aren’t going to ever make it easy on us.”
High scorers: UB got a career-high 36 points from freshman guard CJ Massinburg. Ohio got 28 points from junior center Antonio Campbell.
“The one bright spot is we had some guys give effort,” Oats said. “I thought CJ laid it all on the line for us.”
Late-season lull: Last year UB lost three in a row after the midpoint of the conference season but won its last six MAC regular-season games.
“We’re 12 games in, 7-5,” Oats said. “Last year we were 6-6 and were on a three-game losing streak at the same stage, and we got ourselves together and won six in a row. We mentioned that to the guys, but they’ve got to make it happen. It’s just not going to happen.”
In the house: Attendance was 2,707. The crowd included UB football greats Khalil Mack and Branden Oliver, along with Xavier Ford, forward on last year’s MAC championship team. Ford plays for Grand Rapids of the NBA D League.
Up next: UB visits Akron Tuesday. Akron edged UB, 75-71, at Alumni Arena on Jan. 5.