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Immediate reactions: UB 84, Western Michigan 63

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

A coach’s message doesn’t have to be sent with words.

In UB’s 84-63 win over Western Michigan, a bold, rarely seen coaching tactic paid subtle dividends.

When UB’s starting five of Will Regan, Javon McCrea, Xavier Ford, Jarod Oldham and Joshua Freelove missed its first eight shots from the floor, Bobby Hurley had enough.

The first-year UB head coach yanked all five starters from the floor at the 16:12 mark of the first half, substituting in three regular reserves—underclassmen Shannon Evans (pictured, header), Deyshonee Much and Justin Moss—as well as seldom-used seniors Auraum Nuiriankh and Corey Raley-Ross, much earlier than usual.

The message served two purposes: first, to make the starters realize that a lethargic start littered with missed jumpers wouldn’t be tolerated, and second, to give a group of youngsters and forgotten seniors a chance to turn the tide of a game.

After a Connar Tava miss, Moss ripped down a rebound. Fleet-of-foot off the dribble, Evans whipped past his defender so quickly that help defense didn’t have time to arrive, leading to an easy right-handed layup.

Hungry and motivated, these reserves—who would go on to outscored WMU’s bench 34-13—provided a brief spark in energy and assertiveness, which then lit a fire under the starters, who returned to the floor determined to not be upstaged by the reserves.

Javon McCrea made six of his next seven shots from the floor. Moss continued to tear down rebounds—a team-high six for the half. After an and-one basket, the usually understated Moss posed for a Herculean flex.

Evans made the biggest impact of all in the first half, dropping two three-pointers en route to 10 points, five assists and a generous number of vigorous air-punches in celebration.

The complete 180 buoyed UB (11-6 overall, 5-2 in MAC) to a 39-25 lead at halftime, and the visiting Broncos (11-8 overall, 4-3 in MAC) would never come within single digits again.

More Moss: Averaging 9.1 minutes per game entering the contest, the 6’7, 240-pound Moss logged 17 in his career-high 14-point, six-rebound effort.

I bet his whippings from Javon McCrea every day in practice haven’t hindered Moss’ development, and the sophomore’s display tonight gives Bulls fans hope that life in a McCrea-less frontcourt won’t be that bleak.

Factor in Marshall transfer Jamir Hanner and a year-older Xavier Ford, and the Bulls’ bigs could actually surprise.

#SCTop10-caliber play: With 6:13 remaining in the first half, Jarod Oldham corralled a long rebound and ignited a three-on-one fast break. The flashy point guard tossed a behind-the-back pass to Evans, who caught the ball too far under the hoop to shoot.

With a defender breathing down his neck, Evans alertly flipped the ball behind his back and over his shoulder to trailer Justin Moss, who laid the ball softly in off the glass. A tic-tac-toe play with a heavy dose of flash, we’d say.

[1/30 update: Had Moss dunked the ball with authority rather than feebly lay it in—come on, Justin—then the play would have had a better chance of finding its way to SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.]

Bear in mind that the last few paragraphs sentences occurred in seemingly one swift motion. Actually, just watch it here, courtesy of UB Athletics’ YouTube channel.

Battle of MAC’s Best Bigs: The easy storyline entering tonight was the head-to-head match-up of UB’s McCrea (17.6 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.7 blocks/game) and WMU’s Shayne Whittington (14.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg).

The Bulls’ star won the head-to-head handily, finishing with 20 points and six rebounds, producing quietly as Whittington loudly vented his frustrations with his supporting cast.

You can credit UB’s guards for McCrea’s recent resurgence, as MAC opponents are no longer exclusively playing zone to eliminate McCrea.

Even though it hasn’t always been pretty, Joshua Freelove and Shannon Evans in particular have commanded enough respect to punish sagging zone defenses.

Bench series, part II: When McCrea picked up his third and fourth fouls in a two-second span at 11:54 of the second half, the Bulls reserves struck again.

Moss scored immediately after on a strong bucket inside, then Evans took a mid-court charge on an unsuspecting David Brown. Shortly thereafter, Evans hauled down a long rebound, started the fast break himself, then threw a no-look dart to Freelove on the weak-side for an easy two.

Suddenly, a 52-42 game was pushed to 64-49 with McCrea on the bench, and any hope for a wild Bronco comeback was squelched.

Skeete out: Sophomore guard Jarryn Skeete missed his second consecutive contest with a right leg injury—he was wearing a boot on the bench—and head coach Bobby Hurley declared him day-to-day after the game. That was very Belichick-ian of you, Mr. Hurley.

Quote of the night: “Tonight was an old-fashioned tail kicking…We let them do everything they like to do…We’ve got our tails tucked right now.”—Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins. It’s a pity that you’re not supposed to swear in press conferences.

It’s not like we didn’t hear Hawkins utter a slew of obscenities during the game, or anything.

Stat-line I liked:
UB assisted on 24 of its 33 baskets. That’s an exceptional ratio.

Second stat-line I liked:
Two—charges taken by Will Regan. He falls like a feather sometimes, but his defensive positioning is real sound for momentum-swinging charges.

Stat-line I didn’t like:
1-8—Jarod Oldham’s shooting line wasn’t pretty, and now he’s shooting just 36.5 percent from the floor this season.

He’s not a score-first guard, and his defense was terrific tonight on David Brown, so we’ll give Oldham a mulligan.

What’s next?:
UB travels to Bowling Green on Sunday, then hosts Ball State on Feb. 5.

(All photos are courtesy of Don Nieman).

TAGGED: amherst, college basketball, ub bulls, western michigan broncos

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