The University at Buffalo men’s basketball team got wrapped up in the attention, and became enamored with the accolades and the television time, at least according to its coach.
The rise was fun yet the fall was hard after a 77-75 upset by host Northern Illinois on Tuesday.
In the wake of UB’s first loss in more than a month, coach Nate Oats issued a challenge for his team.
No. 14-ranked UB has to rediscover its identity as it prepares to play a Mid-American Conference game Friday at Kent State (6:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
“Forget about the rankings. Forget about all the national media following us," Oats said. "We have to find out who we are."
“We’re in second place in the MAC. We’re chasing Bowling Green. Let’s get back to playing hard and playing fun and playing with more effort. If we play with more effort, we win.”
The Golden Flashes (15-4, 4-2) are third in the MAC East Division, trailing Bowling Green (14-5, 6-0) and the Bulls.
UB (17-2-1, 5-1) lost its first game since falling 103-85 on Dec. 21 at No. 12 Marquette and now heads to Kent State, where UB suffered its first conference loss last season – an 82-79 defeat on Jan. 30 – after the Bulls had started 8-0 in the MAC.
“It’s finding out who we are again,” CJ Massinburg said, echoing his coach. “It’s going to be how we prepare for this type of game. Kent is a tough place to play, and we’ve got a challenge coming up.”
UB’s loss at Northern Illinois ended a six-game winning streak, and will cause the Bulls to tumble in the national polls.
They dropped from 10 to 23 in the NET rankings that were released Wednesday, and should fall from No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings, which will be released Monday.
Still, UB's resume includes Quadrant 1 wins at Syracuse and against San Francisco in Northern Ireland, and Quadrant 2 wins at West Virginia and at home against Toledo. The Bulls have a Quadrant 1 loss to Marquette and a Quadrant 2 loss to Northern Illinois; the Huskies moved from 136 to 118 in the NET after beating Buffalo, a Quadrant 1 team.
The Quadrant 1, 2, 3 and 4 classifications help define quality wins for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
The last three games, however, have been dicey for the Bulls.
After double-digit blowouts in their first three MAC games, UB trailed 33-22 with 6:47 left in the first half of an 88-79 win Jan. 15 at Western Michigan, and led by only two with less than nine minutes left in a 77-65 win Friday against Eastern Michigan at Alumni Arena.
In the loss at NIU, the Huskies shot 50 percent (27-for-54) and outrebounded the Bulls, 40-37. NIU had 37 defensive rebounds to UB’s 28, and the Bulls only scored 24 of their 75 points in the paint.
UB has averaged 12.6 turnovers and has allowed 28.75 defensive rebounds over its last four games.
“They did a pretty good job of staying vertical at the rim," Oats said. "(NIU's Noah) McCarty did a good job being a rim protector. Our guys drive in there and he’s going vertical and they’re missing shots.
"I tell the guys that if they can’t make those shots in there, kick it out. We shoot a decent percentage from 3 and we weren’t doing that.”
Oats wants the Bulls to return to the identity they forged while opening the season 11-0 and dominating the early games of their MAC schedule.
“We talk about being blue-collar,” Oats said. “Blue-collar teams aren’t worried about the other stuff. They just show up and punch the clock every day. They show up, guard people, rebound, share a ball and don’t worry about the articles written about you, or worry about all that stuff.
“It’s just, get back to playing basketball. We know how. We sit down and talk. We don’t worry about stuff we can’t control. Lately, we’ve worried about way too much stuff that we had no control over. Now, we can control one thing: We can control our effort, our focus. That’s what we’ve got to worry about."