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5 things we learned from UB’s loss to Kent State

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

If the Mid-American Conference season doldrums continue for the University at Buffalo Bulls, you have to wonder if Javon McCrea will return to the school for his senior season.

The junior forward dominated throughout Wednesday night’s 80-68 loss to the visiting Kent State Golden Flashes, compiling an absurd stat-line of a career-high 33 points, 15-15 shooting from the free-throw line, 10 rebounds, four blocks and three steals. McCrea was so effective that KSU head coach Rob Senderoff condensed his defense into a 2-3 zone that was so packed into the paint that UB could essentially have any outside look they pleased.

Here’s what went wrong:

1) Outside shooting: This one’s easy to pinpoint—UB shot 3-for-22 from beyond the three-point arc, “highlighted” by Tony Watson II’s 1-for-12 disaster. The senior guard’s confidence is clearly shaken, as he put himself in good positions to shoot but kept finding the rim. A 37% shooter from three last year—a very respectable number—Watson’s 6-for-23 (26%) since the non-conference loss to Washington State Dec. 21. We’re confident he’ll return to form, but hopefully it doesn’t take too many more nights like this for that turnaround to occur.

2) Turnovers: Inexperience reared its Medusa-esque head in this category, as sophomore transfer Will Regan, freshman point guard Jarryn Skeete and junior swing-man Auraum Nuiriankh combined for 11 of the Bulls’ 20 turnovers. Regan is a puzzling case: he’s show flashes of aggression, assertiveness and anticipation this year, but he was clearly “reacting” and hesitant on Wednesday—two traits that Witherspoon has repeatedly warned against. Skeete’s growing pains are expected as a freshman thrust into a demanding role—he lacked patience and forced the offense Wednesday, and spent almost every dead-ball at Witherspoon’s side for direction.

3) The Bench: Junior center Cameron Downing’s explosion late against Miami (OH) was a distant memory last night, as he committed four fouls in nine minutes of action, looking slow-footed and uncomfortable guarding Kent State’s quicker, leaner big men. Xavier Ford performed well in stretches, while you can’t fault Richie Sebuharara for a lack of effort. Reserve forward Raphell Thomas-Edwards is a specialist in defense and rebounding, but when he’s on the floor, it’s as if the Bulls are playing four-on-five offensively.

4) Body language: I understand that UB shouldn’t be expected to be peppy in a 12-point loss marred by a whopping 55 fouls between the two teams. Still, McCrea wore his frustration with his teammates—Regan in particular—on his sleeve, and even head coach Reggie Witherspoon’s freakout on the shot-clock operator for an incorrect reset with under two minutes left—drawing a technical foul for leaving the coach’s box—set a poor example. The 5-12 Bulls (0-3 in MAC) didn’t fall short in the effort category, but McCrea aside, they’re very shot on talent in 2012-13.

5) Balance: How discouraging can it be that—on a night when McCrea can do no wrong—the Bulls still lose by double-digits to a middle-of-the-pack conference foe? The Bulls struggle a great deal to simply move the ball up the floor and work it around the perimeter—miscommunications, low-percentage passes, forced entries and scripted high-lows made watching the game borderline miserable.

To close on a positive note, McCrea’s performance was a thing of beauty. His excellence was marked by a skill that was once a flaw—free-throw shooting—and his poise at the line, even after drawing dozens of fouls, was remarkable. He’s peerless in terms of strength in the post, and there were countless instances where he ripped the ball out of a Kent State rebounder’s hands and scored from the post with authority.

When he avoids foul trouble, McCrea is the total package—he knows his limits this year, as you won’t see him try to break down many defenders off the dribble or attempt 15-footers from the wing. He put Kent State big Mark Henniger on a poster with a vicious left-handed jam right in the clueless defender’s face, a personal highlight that punctuated a sterling performance.

I don’t really believe that McCrea would consider transferring to a high-major school for his final season of eligibility—his mother still sounds very pro-UB, and McCrea remains close with the rest of the self-proclaimed “Fab Five” of Nuiriankh, injured Jarod Oldham, Downing and seldom-used Corey Raley-Ross. It’s fair to wonder what kind of damage the 6’6 power forward could do as a member of Syracuse or St. John’s in the 2014-15 season, though. We’ll see.

Bonus: If you couldn’t attend last night’s game, you missed the debut of the Zooperstars, a gang of giant inflatable celebrities-turned-animals, including LeBronco James, Mackerel Jordan, Shaquille O’Seal and my personal favorite Mario Lemule. Their unexpected belly-flops and surprising rhythm was honestly the best show of the night—after McCrea, at least.

(All photos courtesy of Robin David Brown from last night’s UB vs. Kent State game—see the full gallery).

TAGGED: college basketball, javon mccrea, kent state golden flashes, mac, reggie witherspoon, ub bulls, will regan

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