Jackrabbits pounce on Bulls, 86-65
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 18, 2012 @ 4:03pm
The University at Buffalo Bulls men’s basketball team did not look prepared for its first national television audience of the year, falling 86-65 to the confident, efficient South Dakota State Jackrabbits of the Summit League on ESPN BracketBuster Saturday.
“South Dakota State took us to the woodshed today,” head coach Reggie Witherspoon said in the UB Bulls’ press release. “We weren’t physical at all. We weren’t aggressive enough. They did a good job of spreading us out and doing what they do best. We didn’t take them to the glass, pound it inside and do what we do best. In the end, when that happens, it’s bad for Buffalo.”
A laundry list of problems saddled the Bulls, who trailed by double-figures for all but 33 seconds of the second half: Reggie Witherspoon’s club looked clearly troubled by the boisterous South Dakota State crowd, flummoxed by the crisp ball movement and unselfishness of SDSU star Nate Wolters and failed to find any rhythm offensively. Javon McCrea was launching contested 18-footers, Dave Barnett was beaten for easy put-backs and interior passing was woeful for Buffalo. The 72 hours in Brookings were one long nightmare.
If you judge the game by the performances of its two marquee players—SDSU’s Wolters and Buffalo’s McCrea—much of the story is told. Wolters showed off a mature and patient game, refusing to force the issue after misses on his team’s first two possessions. The 6’4 junior posted a line of 22 points, six rebounds, eight assists to only two turnovers, surgical in his dismantling of the Bulls’ zone and savvy enough to elude Buffalo’s top defenders Dave Barnett or Jarod Oldham in man-to-man.
The catalyst for an offense that boasts a surprising number of complementary pieces, Wolters found Griffan Callahan (21 points), Jordan Dykstra (9 points) and Tony Fiegen (11 points) for countless open looks off dribble penetration, allowing South Dakota State to respond quickly to any offensive flurry by Buffalo—a big reason why the Bulls failed to claw back into the game. Witherspoon’s soft zone again put Buffalo at a disadvantage, allowing Wolters to find his teammates open with plenty of space to operate. It seemed almost too easy at times for the Jackrabbits.
McCrea, limited to 24 minutes due to foul trouble, finished with eight points—roughly half his season average—and only five rebounds. He connected on only 4-13 from the floor and, while he missed a few “gimmes,” South Dakota State did a tremendous job in its defensive rotations, constantly sending a help defender at McCrea and challenging every attempt around the hoop.
The Bulls’ Preseason All-MAC First Teamer selection wore his emotions on his sleeve, shaking his head and punching the air in disgust throughout the game. The Jackrabbits’ defense clearly dared the Bulls’ backcourt—or anyone other than McCrea and Mitchell Watt—to beat them; credit SDSU and head coach Scott Nagy’s game-plan.
Perhaps the biggest story, though, was Buffalo’s sudden inability to rebound, the team’s calling card so far this season. The Bulls were punished on the glass 23-14 in the opening stanza, giving up seven offensive rebounds and allowing 10 second chance points. How do you explain this? The easy target is to blame the travel and the toll it takes on the body—and that’s probably part of the problem—but South Dakota State always seemed to have an extra guy crashing the glass, a quicker first step to loose balls and more sound fundamentals in establishing position.
Mitchell Watt’s 15 points paced the Bulls, and Zach Filzen added 13 and three three-pointers. Buffalo had 15 total turnovers as a team, and six players had two or more. That’s not a sign of one player forcing the issue, but an offensive system that sputtered today. The Ohio Bobcats visit Alumni Arena for a 7 p.m. clash on Wednesday as the Bulls return to MAC East play.