BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Dontay Caruthers held himself accountable in the wake of a stunning upset.
The University at Buffalo basketball team had just lost to Bowling Green 92-88, and lost their hold on first place in the MAC East Division. While Caruthers, a guard, scored a game-high 28 points and had nine rebounds, he couldn’t help but to lament the spotty play of himself and of his team at the start of the second half.
“It started in the first four minutes, and I’m going to take a lot of credit with that,” said Caruthers, whose specialty rests in playing defense. “I think a turnover or two at the start of the second half, that’s when our eight-point lead changed. That’s on me, and I’ll take credit for that.”
The No. 18 Bulls (19-3, 7-2 MAC) committed four turnovers in the course of the first four minutes of the second half, but Bowling Green chipped away at the Bulls’ halftime lead in that early second-half stretch by utilizing precise 3-point shooting and grabbing four rebounds, including three defensive rebounds – a forte for the Falcons, who entered the game fifth in the nation and first in the MAC, averaging 30.6 defensive rebounds per game.
Those few minutes, the Bulls agreed, became the turning point for the Falcons in their win over the Bulls in front of a capacity crowd of 5,000 Friday at the Stroh Center.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth, right out of the gate,” UB coach Nate Oats said. “Our intensity was not what it needed to be out of the half.”
Plagued by poor rebounding in the second half – the Bulls had 25 rebounds in the first half but only 17 in the second - and 18 turnovers, the Bulls squandered a 47-39 lead at halftime, and ultimately lost their hold on first place in the MAC East Division. UB trails Bowling Green (15-6, 7-1) by a half game in the MAC East.
“We had too many turnovers and that’s just been a repeating thing for us,” Oats said. “Five of the last six games, we’ve had 14-plus turnovers and we’re averaging 15 turnovers in four games. The last game (against Ball State) we had eight, and we had that at the half.
“It’s hard to win games when you turn over the ball 18 times, at this level.”
That four-minute sequence after halftime drained the Bulls, who led by as many as 12 points with 2:24 left in the first half.
Dylan Frye (25 points) hit a 3-pointer 45 seconds into the second half, which triggered a span in which the Falcons cut UB’s lead to one, at 49-48 on Demajeo Wiggins’ layup 90 seconds later. The Falcons stayed within at least two points of UB until about six minutes in, when Michael Laster’s jump shot gave Bowling Green its first lead, at 58-57 with 13:28 left.
“It was very important, and we talked about that at halftime, was win the first four minutes,” said Bowling Green coach Michael Huger, who earned his first win as the Falcons’ coach against Buffalo. “That was our goal. We wanted to come out and we wanted to cut into the lead right away, and we wanted to establish our defense.
“When we did, we were able to hit shots, our defense turned the offense, and we were able to create scores, not only inside but also outside. We were able to hit 3s and that changed the complexion of the game. Once we took the lead, I don’t think we gave it up in the second half.”
The Bulls and the Falcons traded the lead three times in a span of 1 minute, 11 seconds inside the 14-minute mark before Laster hit another jump shot with 12:17 left that gave the Falcons a 61-60 lead. From there, Bowling Green opened its lead to as many as 11 points in the second half, until the Bulls attempted a rally in the final two minutes.
Down 88-85 with 28 seconds left, the Bulls went 0 for 3 on free throws, and after Wiggins hit two free throws with 21.6 seconds left to give the Falcons a 5-point lead, the Bulls came out of a timeout and Caruthers converted a three-point play with 14 seconds left.
UB called a second timeout immediately after Caruthers sank the free throw, and after Antwon Lillard made a free throw with 12.7 seconds left to give the Falcons a 91-88 lead, C.J. Massinburg’s 3-point attempt clanked off the rim with less than two seconds left.
Justin Turner's free throw with 1.5 seconds left helped the Falcons secure the win.
“We’ve got to get back to defense,” said Massinburg, who scored 26 points. “We gave up 53 points in the second half and we’re a team that tries to pride ourselves on defense, and that’s not priding ourselves on defense.
“But just give credit to Bowling Green. They made tough shots all night, stepbacks, you name it, they (were) hitting it all.”