The University at Buffalo offense is one shooter shy of a load.
It was demonstrated again Friday night when the Bulls lost to Akron, 89-83, in a Mid-American Conference basketball showdown.
The Bulls could not keep up with the dead-eye shooting of the first-place Zips. UB shot 7 of 23 from three-point range. Akron shot 13 of 22.
The night was not an aberration. UB ranks 10th in the MAC in three-point shooting percentage on the season. Akron is sixth, but the Zips’ 10.5 threes per game rank fifth in the nation.
The loss dropped UB to fourth in the MAC at 9-7 with two games to go in the regular season. It’s a tight battle for the third to seventh positions, and UB might have to win its final two games to get a top-four seed. The top four get a bye into the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament in Cleveland.
A near-capacity crowd of 6,598 at Alumni Arena watched the rematch of last year’s MAC title game and saw Akron clinch at least a share of the regular-season title. The Zips improved to 23-6 and 13-3. UB is 15-14 overall.
“That’s probably the best crowd I’ve seen here in the 13 years I’ve been here,” said Akron coach Keith Dambrot. “It’s funny, that Buffalo-Akron rivalry has become kind of a neat thing.”
A lot of effort and rebounding kept UB in the game. UB outboarded the Zips, 42-22.
“The ball didn’t move well enough, and we didn’t take care of it enough, and we didn’t shoot it well enough,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “We shot 41 percent and they shot 56 percent, and somehow we were still in the game in the last minute.”
“I thought our effort was really good, to be honest with you,” Oats said. “I told them I can live with a loss like this a lot more than I can live with one where we don’t play hard.”
The Bulls were down by 17, 61-44, with 12:30 to go. But the Bulls kept attacking the backboards. UB cut the lead to five five times in the last five minutes but could come no closer.
Akron has reached 20 wins for a 12th straight season. The Zips have won the MAC and gone to the NCAA Tournament three of the past eight years. They have reached the MAC championship game eight of the last 10 seasons.
Akron used its inside-out offensive formula to outclass the Bulls.
The Zips got 19 points from 6-foot-10, 290-pound senior center Isaiah “Big Dog” Johnson. But it was Johnson’s passing that caused UB as many problems as his scoring. He made a ton of good passes from the low post out to the perimeter, which found open shooters and kept UB’s defenders scrambling.
“I believe that the numbers don’t lie,” Dambrot said. “So if you’re a 38 percent three-point shooting team, over time you’re going to shoot 38 percent. If you’re a 33 percent three-point shooting team, over time you’re going to shoot 33 percent. Obviously it’s one of our strengths, and rebounding is one of their strengths.”
UB got 23 points from senior forward Blake Hamilton, 18 from senior wing Willie Conner and 17 from sophomore guard C.J. Massinburg.
Akron got 16 from guard Noah Robotham, 15 from guard Josh Williams and 14 from guard Antino Jackson.
“Look, I wouldn’t be surprised if Akron and Buffalo played in the championship game again,” Dambrot said.
If UB doesn’t win its last two, the road to a third-straight final probably will be very difficult.
UB visits second-place Ohio (10-5) at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The regular-season finale is at home at 7 p.m. Friday against Bowling Green (6-9). Ball State (9-6) is a half-game ahead of UB in second place. Western Michigan and Kent State (both 8-7) are a half-game behind UB, tied for fifth.