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UB returns home to face rival Ohio in MAC contest

Since joining the Mid-American Conference in 1999, the University at Buffalo has developed some intense basketball rivalries within the league. None more fierce, perhaps, than that between the Bulls and Ohio University in men’s basketball.

The Bobcats (9-7, 1-2 MAC East) will invade Alumni Arena on Tuesday night to take on the Bulls (10-6, 1-2) for the first time under first-year coach Jeff Boals, who came back to his alma mater from Stony Brook.

UB was once dominated by Ohio in its early years in the MAC. The Bobcats won the first nine times they met in conference games, usually by one-sided margin. UB broke through with a 77-49 win in 2004 at Alumni Arena.

Ohio then won all three meetings, including the MAC Tournament championship game in Cleveland, 80-79 in overtime. The Bulls have been able to win at least once each season against Ohio in nine of the 14 seasons since. The Bulls take a five-game win streak over Ohio into tonight’s game. The last time the Bobcats won was in 2017 at Alumni Arena.

Having lost at home to Northern Illinois in their conference opener and then at Ball State last week, coach Jim Whitesell’s Bulls can’t afford another home loss to an East Division opponent if they are to retain their title in the division.

UB is coming off an 83-78 victory last Friday at Miami (Ohio), a game in which the Bulls were trailing 11-0 at the start.

Whitesell was pleased to see his team get back on a winning track. The Bulls had won three nonconference games preceding the two MAC losses.

“I was really happy with the way we defended tonight and we challenged the guys to play with energy and get back to blue collar basketball and I thought we did that,” said Whitesell on Friday. “Offensively, the ball moved much better and we got balanced scoring up and down the lineup.”

Jayvon Graves led the Bulls with 25 points. Sophomore Ronaldo Segu came off the bench for 16 points and six assists. Senior guard Davonta Jordan played all but 28 seconds and turned in a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds with five assists. Sophomore Josh Mballa had 12 points and 13 boards and sophomore Jeenahan Williams added 11 points.

Ohio’s last game was an 83-74 home loss to Bowling Green on Saturday despite a career-high 25 points by sophomore forward Ben Vander Plas, who made five 3-pointers in nine attempts. Vander Plas is the Bobcats’ leading rebounder at 7.1 per game.

Ohio has some strength in the middle in 6-foot-10, 237-pound Sylvester Ogbonda, a graduate transfer from Georgia Tech.

Guards Jason Preston (15.4) and Jordan Dartis (14.9) are Ohio’s leading scorers. The 6-8 Vander Plas is averaging 14.4.

UB will go back on the road for a Saturday game at Central Michigan (9-7, 2-1 MAC West) then come home for conference games against Western Michigan and Kent State next week.

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