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UB men's basketball self-evaluates in preparation for second half of MAC schedule

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – The University at Buffalo men’s basketball team has a few days to do some self-evaluation on its 92-88 loss to Bowling Green.

In particular, the No. 18 Bulls have to focus on what they need to shore up, if they want to contend for the Mid-American Conference East Division title and if they want to guarantee a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The Bulls (19-3, 7-2 MAC) don't play again until they host Central Michigan at 3:30 p.m Saturday at Alumni Arena, eight days after the loss to the Falcons on Friday at the Stroh Center.

“It’s the same things we’ve been talking about, the past few weeks,” UB guard CJ Massinburg said. “We need to improve on our turnovers, we had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio (against Bowling Green), and just getting stops. I feel like our offense flowed (Friday). A lot of guys were shooing the ball well, but we have to get back to defense.

“We gave up 53 points in the second half. We’re a team that prides itself on defense, and that’s not pride in defense.”

With the loss at Bowling Green, the Bulls lost their spot atop the MAC East, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if UB isn't in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since the initial release of the preseason poll Oct. 22.

“It depends on what happens, and there’s a bunch of people in there, but we can’t keep losing in conference,” UB coach Nate Oats said. “If it does, we deserved it.”

The Bulls have a few things to work on, in the days leading into the second half of their MAC schedule.

They need to minimize turnovers. UB has committed at least 12 turnovers in five of their last six games; the Bulls only had eight Tuesday against Ball State – they had that many at halftime Friday at Bowling Green.

In all, UB had 11 assists on 31 made field goals and had 18 turnovers after coming into the game averaging almost the reverse, nearly 18 assists and 12 turnovers.

“It’s hard to win games when you turn over the ball 18 times, at this level,” Oats said.

UB needs to have a consistent effort across 40 minutes. The game against Bowling Green was the exact opposite of that goal. The Bulls led 47-39 at halftime, had 25 rebounds to the Falcons' 11, and shot 53.1 percent (17 for 32) from the floor. But in the second half, UB shot 43.7 percent (14 for 32) and gave up a season-high 53 points. UB entered the game at 15-0 when leading at halftime.

UB needs to get back to playing defense, and it needs more offensive production. The Bulls need to find more secondary production to support Massinburg and Caruthers. Jeremy Harris has scored in double figures once since his 20-point game Jan. 15 at Western Michigan, and Nick Perkins has been held to 13 points in the last two games, after eight consecutive games in which he scored at least 12 points.

“We can get back to a defensive bootcamp, but I don’t know if that’s more of a mindset, the defensive stuff,” Oats said. “The biggest thing we need to work on, in the week off, is getting our offense back to flowing and not turning the ball over. We’ve got to get some guys making some shots again and we’ve got some big-time scorers on our team that are just struggling from the field right now.”

The Bulls have to win games if they want to strengthen their chances at earning an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament should they not win the conference tournament. Before Friday’s game at Bowling Green, ESPN and Sports Illustrated had the Bulls as a six seed and CBS Sports and the Washington Post had UB as a seven seed.

By early Saturday, CBS Sports dropped the Bulls to an 8 seed.

UB’s game Saturday against Central Michigan kicks off a stretch in which the Bulls play seven MAC East teams in their final nine regular-season games, before the MAC Tournament opens March 11.

The Bulls host Bowling Green in the regular-season finale for both teams on March 8 at Alumni Arena. That game that could still have implications on the MAC East title chase.

Oats outlined the stakes for the Bulls to get to that point, between now and the end of the regular season.

“This is the first-place team in the league, and now they’re in first place, all alone,” Oats said of the Falcons. “Now we’re a half-game down and we’re going to need a little help to win the league.”

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