Filzen lets loose as Bulls zip past Akron
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • January 19, 2012 @ 8:30am
When Zach Filzen is assertive with his shot, the University at Buffalo Bulls’ offense can be lethal.
Behind a game-high 21 points and five three-pointers from the Bulls’ up and down senior guard, UB held home court against MAC foe Akron, the conference’s representative in last year’s NCAA Tournament. In Wednesday’s 82-70 win, Reggie Witherspoon’s club knotted its conference record at 2-2 and improved to 9-6 overall.
Much of the pre-game chatter surrounded Filzen’s lack of assertiveness on the perimeter—the Bulls’ 2010 record-setting three-point shooter hadn’t attempted double-digit shots in a game since Dec. 7—and the guard’s deference and inability to free himself from opponents made Buffalo easier to defend.
“I had some good conversations with Coach Battle and Coach Witherspoon Monday,” Filzen said about how he tried to shake his struggles. “I wasn’t moving as well as I’m capable of in previous games. My movement was a lot better tonight. I wasn’t as aggressive in looking for my shot the last couple weeks. I tried to come out and move as well as I could, and when I was open, I just let it fly. I’ve worked a lot of hours, and I knew I just had to trust that.”
His trust was well served, as Filzen canned his first three-pointer 3:14 into the game. His two most important triples, however, came down the stretch in the second half. One possession after Filzen failed to square his shoulders to the hoop and clanged a three off the back iron, the Bulls’ senior guard hoisted an unexpected heave from 26-feet with 11:52 to go. For most players, this would be a type of low-percentage shot would plant them firmly on the bench for an extended period—for Filzen, who rattled home the rainmaker, it was a confidence boost.
With 1:16 to go, and Akron fighting back to within three points, it was Filzen who sunk the dagger deep into the Zips. Lurking around his favored left wing, Filzen flared off a screen, caught Jarod Oldham’s chest pass and smoothly released a shot that hit nothing but net. Suddenly trailing by six, Akron quickly unraveled.
“I thought we did a bad job on [Filzen],” Akron’s coach Dambrot said. “You have to make that guy a driver—you have to make him put the ball down, and if he hits pull-ups, that’s not as bad as when he hits threes. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you have to guard him and McCrea. We were just undisciplined and brain-dead at times.”
The shift in confidence came at the perfect time for Filzen, who’d been asked earlier in the week if he was interested in coming off the bench—he quickly declined. Instead, fellow senior Dave Barnett embraced a reserve role, pushing sophomore Auraum Nuiriankh into the starting five.
At 2-2 in the MAC and owning impressive home wins over Kent State and Akron, Buffalo faces a stiff test on the road at Bowling Green on Saturday. The Falcons, particularly at home, should not be taken lightly, as they stomped Ohio by 10 at the Stroh Center and fell to Akron by a point. Still, tonight’s victory is reason to celebrate for the Bulls.
“We had a rough week last week, and we didn’t play up to our potential,” Filzen said. “We knew we had to respond, and you have to take care of home court in this conference.”
—“Blacked out:” The 1,750 UB students in attendance on “Blackout Night” ranks second all-time to a 2005 game. Akron head coach Keith Dambrot noticed: “All of a sudden I think Akron is their natural rivalry or something, because every time we come here there’s 5,000 students out there yelling, screaming and calling us names. It’s enjoyable to come in and play.” Dambrot, who seems like an intense, edgy and explosive coach on the sidelines, is actually a really friendly, charismatic fellow off the court.
—Dambrot was particularly hard on his 7’0 center Zeke Marshall: “I thought [Zeke] was mediocre. I think he was emotional. They beat him up, he let me bother him, I got on him—he got bothered by me. That’s the part that he really needs to develop, to not let the last play affect the next play. He battled, but I don’t think he was as good around the rim as he’s been—he’s had some games where he knocked everything back. Tonight, I think [Buffalo] picked on him, and they have a tendency to go right at him which a lot of people don’t. A lot of people go at him by driving it at him, but they went low-block at him, and he gave up easy position.”
—Enough to go around: Every Buffalo Bull that entered the game registered at least a point on the score-sheet. The biggest surprise? UB sophomore center Cameron Downing spelled Mitchell Watt and scored seven points in seven minutes. Not only was he productive, but Downing showed a willingness to attack the glass and make the most of his soft hands inside. A very encouraging sign for a Bulls’ rotation that’s been rather thin recently.