PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The University at Buffalo succumbed to a bigger, faster University of Miami team Thursday night and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulls played the ninth-ranked Hurricanes close to the end before losing a 79-72 decision.
It was the second straight narrow loss for the Bulls in the NCAA Tournament. Last year they lost, 68-62, to West Virginia after being tied at 62 with 2:40 to go.
This time UB was within four points with 1:55 to go, but it could not make the shots down the stretch to pull a big upset.
UB got sensational games from sophomore point guard Lamonte Bearden and freshman forward Nick Perkins. Perkins, the 6-8 Detroit product, scored a career-high 20 points. Bearden, going against one of the better point guards in the Atlantic Coast Conference, scored 19 points.
Miami got great play from its celebrated senior backcourt. Point guard Angel Rodriguez scored 24 points. The Hurricanes got 20 points from 6-5 guard Sheldon McClellan, who is rated expected to be an NBA second-round draft pick later this year.
UB pulled within 72-68 with 1:55 left when Bearden hit a difficult bank shot in the lane. The Bulls got a defensive stop but Bearden missed a jumper with 1:10 to go. Miami made 7 of 8 free-throw tries over the final 1:10 to seal the win.
UB also got 12 points from junior forward Blake Hamilton and 11 from freshman guard CJ Massinburg.
Miami took control of the game by scoring on six of its first nine possessions of the second half to go ahead, 49-38, with 12:26 to play. The Hurricanes’ first four buckets of the half came in the low post, the next two came on three-pointers.
The lead hovered between six and 12 points for the next seven minutes. Then UB got three-pointers from Conner and Hamilton and two free throws from Perkins to pull within 70-64 with 4:00 left.
Records: Miami improved to 26-7. UB’s season ended at 20-15.
First half: Miami took a 35-33 lead into intermission. The Bulls got exactly the kind of start they wanted. UB hit four of its first five shots from three-point range to take a 12-4 lead. Miami had a miserable offensive showing early.
The Hurricanes scored on just 3 of their first 14 possessions over the first 6:30 of the game. They also had five turnovers in that stretch. UB’s lead was 12-6 at that point.
But Miami’s offense was good the lad 13 minutes of the half. The Hurricanes made 9 of 18 shots the rest of the way. A 9-0 Miami run put UB behind, 29-25.
UB answered. Perkins got a rebound put-back, UB’s only one of the half, off a miss by Massinburg with 3:10 left. In the last two minutes, Bearden hit a three-pointer from the wing and two free throws.
Miami held a 24-6 edge in the paint in the first half. UB was close because it hit 5 of 12 three-pointers. UB’s bench outscored Miami’s bench, 20-4.
No. 14 upsets: Over the previous three years, No. 14 seeds have four upsets and eight losses against No. 3 seeds. From 2007 to 2012, No. 3 seeds were 23-1.
Experience edge: Only one of UB’s top six scorers is a senior. Four of Miami’s top six are seniors. Miami coach Jim Larranaga has to compete with Duke, which has attracted “one-and-done” NBA prospects. Miami has not attracted such players but has compensated by relying on experience. Miami’s leaders, McClellan and Rodriguez, are fifth-year seniors. They transferred from Texas and Kansas State, respectively. Miami ranks 33rd in the nation in experience, according to the analytics site kenpom.com. UB ranks 255th of 351 in overall roster experience.
Question of pace: On paper, UB had an advantage over Miami playing up-tempo. UB ranked 25th in the nation in pace of play, averaging 73 possessions per 40 minutes. Miami ranked 278th in the nation, averaging 66.8 possessions per 40 minutes. Miami was reluctant to get into an up-tempo games against some of its ACC competition, such as fast-paced North Carolina, ranked third in the nation. But Oats acknowledged Miami clearly had the athleticism to run with UB.
“We're not going to slow it down because that's not the way we play,” Oats said. “We're going to wait and see if we win that way with them. We're not going to win a slow-down game. I don't have Justin Moss to punch the ball into every time down the floor, so we're going to have to figure it out. Now, we don't want to get into run, run, run, dunk, dunk, dunk, because we can't win that. But we're going to push it and take good shots.”
Bonus time: Like all Division I coaches, Oats has bonuses written into his contract for post-season success. Oats makes a base salary of $250,000. Winning the MAC Tournament gave him a bonus of 1-12th of his annual salary, which amounted to $20,833. UB’s assistants got a similar percentage bonus. Oats also has a potential for a bonus based on home ticket sales.
Oats’ predecessor, Bobby Hurley, also had a base salary of $250,000, and he also got additional compensation of $50,000 a year. Hurley got two bonuses last year of $20,883 because UB won both a share of the MAC regular-season title and the MAC Tournament title. However, UB’s athletics department made money when Hurley left to take the job at Arizona State. Hurley had to pay UB a $525,000 buyout payment for leaving with four years to go on his contract. That buyout called for the coach to pay one half of his remaining base salary (and he had a payment or two remaining from last year’s wages). The Arizona State Board of Regents made the buyout payment to UB on behalf of Hurley. Hurley’s base salary at ASU this year was $1.2 million.
Mom’s wedding: The mother of UB’s Conner, Lakisha Hunter, is getting married March 25 in Chicago. A Cinderella run this weekend would require Conner to miss the big day. After graduating from high school in Chicago, Conner started his college career at Florida A&M, transferred to a junior college in Texas, then landed at UB. A sociology major, Conner hopes to return to Chicago after college and open a non-profit center that helps children with their educational needs.
NCAA history: While this was UB’s second NCAA appearance, Miami was making its eighth appearance and its seventh in the last 19 seasons. The Hurricanes were a No. 2 seed in 2013 but were eliminated by Marquette in the Sweet 16. They also reached the Sweet 16 in 2000.
National ranking: Miami stood 19th in the nation in free-throw percentage, making 75.1 percent of its shots. The Hurricanes had committed only 16.5 fouls a game, which ranked 26th-best in the country. They also were good at avoiding turnovers, which often is critical in avoiding NCAA Tournament upsets. Miami made the 28th-fewest turnovers in the nation, averaging 10.6 a game.
In the house: The Dunkin Donuts Center, home of the Providence Friars, was filled to a capacity of 12,400.
Up next: The winner of the game against sixth-seeded Arizona and 11th-seeded Wichita State was next up in the Round of 32.