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UB basketball can't sustain late rally, loses MAC opener to Northern Illinois

The University at Buffalo men’s basketball team's furious attempt at a comeback fell short on Saturday.

Less than 14 seconds after Jayvon Graves gave the Bulls a one-point lead on a pair of free throws with 33.5 seconds left, Davonta Jordan fouled Trendon Hankerson, who sank two free throws to give the lead back to Northern Illinois.

Then, with three seconds left, Jordan was unable to make a jump shot, and his long 3-point attempt from about 65 feet just before the buzzer  clanked off the rim and ended a 73-72 loss to the Huskies at Alumni Arena.

“I thought our guys fought to get back in it,” said UB coach Jim Whitesell, whose team trailed by 14 points in the second half. “Nothing went our way in the first half.

“We were right there. I thought Coco (Davonta Jordan) had a nice try for the basket and he missed it, but it is what it is. I thought our guys did a really good job getting back into the press and doing a good job of fighting through it. But like I just told our players, every point counts. Every possession counts. When you think things aren’t going your way, shorten up the gap.”

But in its Mid-American Conference opener, UB (9-5, 0-1 MAC) left too many points on the floor, whether it was because of erratic free-throw shooting or spotty shooting from the perimeter. The Bulls made 15 of 24 free throws against NIU (8-6, 1-0) and finished 9-for-33 on 3-point attempts, including 3-for-16 in the first half.

“NIU helped in,” Graves said of the Huskies' defense. “They would switch off if you handed the ball off to the next guy, and that forced us to pass it out or take bad shots.”

Even UB’s inside game left something to be desired. Josh Mballa registered his third double-double (11 points and 11 rebounds), and the Bulls had 19 offensive rebounds, including seven by Jeenathan Williams, but Whitesell lamented the fact that his team couldn’t capitalize on its offensive opportunities, particularly in scoring only 19 second-chance points.

“I’d like to see that a lot higher,” Whitesell said. “That’s only one point per offensive board. We have to do a better job of finishing that and making people pay for that. That shows you’re doing some really good things in terms of going to the offensive glass, but we have to get the and-1, we have to get the kickout three or we’ve got to get the put-back.”

The Bulls couldn't muster much inside despite playing Mballa and LaQuill Hardnett on the court for a stretch of the first half, and even with the debut of center Brock Bertram, who missed the first two months of the season because of a stress fracture in his left foot.

Hardnett came through with an offensive rebound and a putback to cut NIU's lead to 19-18, but the Huskies answered with Zaire Mateen's 3-pointer on the next possession.

Four minutes later, Ronaldo Segu's free throws tied the game 28-28 with 6:02 left in the first half, but the Huskies closed the first half on a 13-4 run and shut down UB's perimeter game.

“We were trying to be aggressive but I feel like we were being sloppy with the ball,” said Williams, who led the Bulls with 17 points. “The aggressiveness was pointless, at that point.”

The Huskies allowed the Bulls only one successful shot in the paint in the first eight minutes of the second half: Graves’ jumper at 12:24, which made it 55-43, NIU. But down 69-59, Jordan’s 3-pointer with 3:23 left began a 13-2 run for the Bulls. The Huskies committed four turnovers in that stretch, including two by point guard Eugene German (26 points).

“We got to the free-throw line, got our press set up a little bit and we got our pressure going,” Whitesell said. “We scrambled around and we got moving and created a couple turnovers off it, and I think our guys, offensively, got a little more aggressive. We pushed the ball up the floor a lot, but too many times we weren’t getting stops to get the ball up the floor.”

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