UB 59, NIU 54
How UB Won: By getting to the free throw line. And that's how they almost frittered away the lead, too. The Bulls were 15 of 17 from the line before missing 5 of 6 in a stretch that began with 44.5 seconds remaining and ended when Auraum Nuiriankh made two with seven seconds left. Those misfires enabled NIU to get a shot at a tying basket inside the final 10 seconds. But it's a sign UB's running its offense with some success when free throws become part of the equation. And they were 16 of 25 to NIU's 11 of 14. There's your difference.
Player of the Game: Tony Watson hit a pair of big threes inside the final eight minutes, finished with 14 points, played 40 minutes and only turned it over once.
Best Supporting Role: Nuiriankh continues to struggle from the field (2 of 9) but his 10 rebounds were huge.
Stat Check: Javon McCrea's role in the continuity offense has him handling the ball more than most big men, which makes him prone to turnovers. He didn't have a single one Saturday. Last time that happened this season? Never.
Stat Check II: The Huskies shot 61.1 percent in the first half, the second best half of the season for a team that has five times shot under 19 percent in a half and 10 times shot 27 percent or worse.
Stat Check III: UB's bench, a strength in recent seasons, was outscored 21-4.
Snow Job: Northern Illinois had its Saturday evening flight to Chicago canceled. Instead of 90 minutes in the air they chartered a bus for the 12-hour journey back to DeKalb.
What it Means: Everyone's jockeying for position as the season moves inside the final month. The top five teams receive byes into the Cleveland portion of the MAC Tournament. The next three teams host first-round campus games against the bottom three. If the season ended now UB (9-25, 4-6) would host one of those first-round games and a tiebreaker would determine if NIU (5-17, 3-7) is on the road or at home.
In the House: Serve chicken wings and they will come. Free wings were provided as part of Saturday's promotion and the crowd of 4,136 was second to the 4,450 for the home opener against Princeton.
They Said It
NIU Coach Mark Montgomery: "Anytime you go on the road and have a shot to tie it to go overtime you have to be happy."
Montgomery: "Today we shot straight. Shooting 61 percent at halftime, I don't know if you guys followed us but a couple weeks ago we struggled putting that ball in." (The Huskies set an NCAA record with four first-half points against Eastern Michigan).
UB Coach Reggie Witherspoon on the likelihood of Jarod Oldham (wrist fracture) returning for the postseason: "After his last doctor's appointment they said 'Slim,' packed it up and went home. It was slim and none and slim left, so I think that means none."
Next Up: UB plays its final MAC crossover Wednesday night when Toledo visits Alumni Arena. The Rockets are on academic probation and ineligible for the MAC Tournament but have one of the league's more dymanic players in junior guard Rian Pearson.
-- Bob DiCesare
taggedCollege basketball | Mid-American Conference | University at Buffalo