Once Jayvon Graves started hitting 3-pointers, it seemed as if he couldn’t stop making those long-range shots.
Graves hit his first shot from behind the arc less than 10 minutes into the first half, then made the next five attempts before halftime as the No. 25 Bulls defeated Ohio 114-67 on Tuesday at Alumni Arena.
The sophomore guard scored a season-high 26 points and went 7 for 9 on 3-pointers. Graves had scored in double figures once in the previous six games for the Bulls.
“I was struggling the last few games,” Graves said. “I had to get comfortable playing the game.”
Graves also made a point to focus on defense in those previous six games, a stretch in which he averaged only 6.3 points.
“I told somebody today, ‘as long as my man isn’t scoring, I don’t care about the scoring,’ ” said Graves, whose previous season high in scoring was 19 points on Dec. 8 in an 80-62 win at St. Bonaventure. “It just all came together.”
The Bulls (23-3, 11-2 MAC) fed off Graves, fed off their early defensive play and finished with a program record of 19 3-pointers in a game. The Bulls set the previous record of 18 in a game in an 88-86 loss Feb. 22, 1996 against Troy.
UB finished 19 for 33 on 3-pointers against Ohio (11-14, 3-10) and shot at least 50 percent on 3-point attempts for the third time this season. The Bulls went 16 for 32 in a 76-49 win Nov. 24 against Marist, and went 15 for 30 on 3-pointers in a 110-80 win Jan. 8 vs. Toledo.
“They did a terrific job of getting loose off some dribble penetration,” Ohio coach Saul Phillips said. “Really drawing our help, and we didn’t do a good job of containing the dribble. They hit that percentage, they’re going to beat a lot of people.”
The Bulls took a 26-13 lead with 9:38 left in the first half on Graves’ second 3-pointer, and opened it to 32-15 on Graves’ third and fourth 3-pointers with 7:18 left. UB led by as many as 25 points for the remainder of the first half, as Graves’ sixth 3-pointer gave the Bulls a 52-27 lead with 36 seconds left before halftime, and led by as many as 49 in the final 4:44.
The Bulls completed one of their more convincing wins in recent weeks, but UB coach Nate Oats was pragmatic about his team as it prepares for the postseason, and where his team currently stands as far as projected NCAA Tournament brackets. Prior to the win Tuesday against Ohio, ESPN and USA Today projected the Bulls as a seven seed and CBS Sports projected the Bulls as an eight seed.
“Our next 2 1/2 weeks is a huge stretch for us,” Oats said. “We’re going to show people we’re worthy of maybe a 6 or a 5 (seed). At one point, people had us as a 5 seed or a 6 seed. At one point we were 14th in the polls as a 4 seed. If we’re going to get back into those conversations, we’re going to have to have multiple wins like this. Not just one.”
The Bulls remain tied for first in the MAC East Division with Bowling Green. UB continues a three-game homestand at 7 p.m. Friday against Kent State, and hosts Akron at 7 p.m. Tuesday. UB plays March 1 at Miami (Ohio) and March 5 at Ohio, then closes the regular season March 8 against Bowling Green at Alumni Arena.
The MAC Tournament begins March 11 with first-round games on campus sites, and continues March 14 with the conference quarterfinals. The 68-team NCAA Tournament field will be announced March 17.
The Bulls are aware they have to sustain the pace they set Tuesday against Ohio in their final five regular-season games.
“Last week we were ranked No. 23 (in the Associated Press Top 25 poll), we win a couple games and we fell to 25,” said UB guard CJ Massinburg, who scored 23 points. “But people are noticing our wins and what’s supposed to be a dominating win, and we’re escaping by six or four points. The committee is looking at that type of stuff. So we’re trying to take it possession by possession, and give a max effort. We can show the world we can get a very convincing win.
“What we’ve been doing hasn’t been working. We didn’t move at all in the AP rankings. We thought we got away with two tough wins (at Akron and at Toledo) but we’ve got to be better.”