By Aaron Mansfield
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Once again, Javon McCrea almost singlehandedly beat Kent State. But victories against superior opponents rarely come when only one player reaches double figures. Once again, his team couldn't match his dominance.
The junior forward finished with a career-high 33 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and two steals, but the University at Buffalo basketball team fell 80-68 at home on Wednesday night, marking its fourth-straight loss. The Bulls (5-12, 0-3 Mid-American Conference) have not beaten a Division IA opponent since they dispatched Niagara, 77-67, on Dec. 8. Kent State (11-6, 2-1 MAC) finished the game on a 12-2 run to pull away in a hard-fought game that Buffalo seemed to have in control in the second half.
The rivalry matchup is traditionally heated, and this showdown was no exception. Bulls head coach Reggie Witherspoon received a technical foul with less than a minute to go after both teams had exchanged copious trash talk and fouls — 55 between them — throughout the game. Witherspoon said he has probably coached a game with that many fouls before, but he couldn't remember one. Four Kent State big men fouled out, and McCrea took full advantage of their troubles.
Kent State head coach Rob Senderoff called the preseason Big 4 Player of the Year "a monster inside" and said "we couldn't guard him man to man."
"I know Kent doesn't like to play defense, so I try to take a lot of shots against them," said McCrea, who shot 9 for 12 from the field and 15 for 15 from the free throw line.
As a freshman, he scored 28 points against the Golden Flashes in the MAC Tournament, but his team fell just short. He scored 25 in a frenzied 66-65 win over Kent State last year.
"He's had some really dominant performances each year, but this was right up there [with the best performance of his career]," Witherspoon said.
One trend has held true for the Bulls this year: when they score points, they win games. Buffalo is 4-1 when it scores 70 or more points this year and 1-11 when scoring fewer.
The Bulls could not get going on offense, however, because they could not find any rhythm from beyond the arc, finishing 3 for 22 from downtown. Senior sharpshooter Tony Watson struggled mightily and finished 1 for 12. Watson started the year 24 of 50 (48 percent) from three-point range but has shot 4 of 29 (14 percent) since.
"I thought we were getting good looks, but they just weren't dropping," said freshman point guard Jarryn Skeete, who totaled nine points but went 0 for 4 from three-point range. "We need to work on it more."
Witherspoon said his team will shoot the long ball better when the guys start passing better, but right now, they aren't passing well enough. The Bulls amassed twice as many turnovers as the Flashes —20 for Buffalo to Kent's 10.
Buffalo trailed 40-36 at the break despite 21 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals from McCrea. The Bulls had won the past four games against the Golden Flashes in Alumni Arena and, prior to Wednesday, had not given up more than 67 points to any opponent at home this year. Randal Holt (27 points) and Chris Evans (25) paced Kent State.
This is UB's first 0-3 start in conference play since the 2002-03 season. The Bulls started last season 1-2 in the MAC but finished 12-4. In 2010-11, they started 0-2 and finished 8-8. McCrea's previous career high of 31 points came in a win at Milwaukee on Dec. 5.
Buffalo will be back at home to play Bowling Green (6-10, 1-2 MAC) on Saturday at 7 p.m.Follow reporter Aaron Mansfield on Twitter @aaroncmansfield.