By Matt Parrino
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — AMHERST — At this stage of the college basketball season it’s all about survival. And survive is exactly what the UB men’s basketball team did on Monday night.
In the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament, the Bulls needed overtime to outlast Central Michigan, 74-72 in a nail biter at Alumni Arena.
“It’s that time of year where everybody talks about survive and advance and we did that,” said UB head coach Reggie Witherspoon. “It was a gritty, gutty performance, I think, by both teams. We expected that tonight and it may not have been one of our best efforts, but it was one of our most determined efforts.”
Two of the conference’s best were in post season form, as CMU’s Kyle Randall went off, scoring 28 of his game-high 31 points in the second half and the overtime period.
UB’s Javon McCrea was his usual dominant self. The first team All-MAC selection scored six of the Bulls’ seven overtime points and finished with a team-high 21 and eight rebounds.
The Bulls led by six with just under two minutes to go in regulation when Randall took over. He made two 3-pointers from the top of the arc, and the shot that sent the game to overtime with 20.2 seconds left in regulation was from about 26 feet.
Senior guard Tony Watson had a chance to win the game on the final shot in his last game at home, but it didn’t fall.
The Bulls’ plan was obvious in the extra frame: get the ball to McCrea. He made a jump shot from just inside the arc to open up the scoring and then on the next UB possession he drove past a pair of CMU defenders and sent down a titanic left-handed slam dunk that brought the 2,309 in attendance to their feet.
“We don’t have anybody that can defend (Javon),” said CMU head coach Keno Davis. “We were going to try and be as physical with him as possible and limit the touches he got. But as special a player as he is, he kept working and fighting.”
CMU’s John Simonds responded for the Chippewa’s with a 3-pointer to bring his team within a point at 71-70.
The last minute was a free throw contest and the Bulls were able to secure the win, making 3 of 4 from the line. Randall missed a last-second desperation runner from behind the arc at the buzzer.
Four players scored in double figures for the Bulls. Watson had 14 and finished with six assists, Will Regan had 15 points and tied a game-high with eight rebounds and Raphell Thomas Edwards, not known for his offensive production, scored all 10 of his points — good for a career high — in the first half.
Witherspoon said his team is used to playing in close games and it’s good to “get (a win) under your belt,” in the tournament. He said every game is a challenge because all the teams in the league know each other well.
Regan added that wins like against CMU go a long way toward building the team’s confidence.
“The biggest thing as a team is that you always want to learn from your experiences,” Regan said. “We’ve been in close games so we know what it takes to get (back in it). We know we can win close games.”
UB takes on Ball State at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the second round of the MAC tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Oh.