Preview: Ohio Faces Improved Buffalo Team Tuesday

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It was quite a weekend for the Buffalo Bulls.

They were able to accomplish a feat that 16 different teams – including the Bobcats – have been unable to do since Dec. 15.

They beat No. 24 Akron.

Buffalo snapped the Zips’ 19-game winning streak Saturday and helped their own cause, as they continue to battle for a possible four seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

It was a stunning victory, as Buffalo saw Javon McCrea outplay both Akron big men with 26 points, six rebounds and four blocks, and Jarryn Skeete poured in 18 points in all 40 minutes played.

And now the Bobcats travel to Buffalo and try to do something the Zips were unable to do Saturday: win in the Alumni Arena.

A win over the Bulls came easily the first time around. Ohio held McCrea in check with just 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting, and defeated Buffalo, 86-68, in the Convocation Center.

However, this is a different team from that 5-9 squad the Bobcats played against on Jan. 9. Their record of 12-17 and 7-7 in the MAC may not show signs of a drastic improvement, but in their last five games, McCrea has become a monster down low and the team has been performing well against the top teams in the MAC.

The final seven games of Buffalo’s schedule were not going to be easy, with Akron, Kent State, Toledo and Ohio, but they have stepped up tremendously to play with their opposition’s level of talent. Toledo and Akron are two of the top five teams in the conference, based on record, and the Bulls outscored them by a combined 29 points at home. They traveled to Kent State – currently tied for fifth in the MAC – on Feb. 27 and lost by two points in overtime. Winning, let alone going to overtime, in Kent is not simple. Just ask Ohio, who escaped with a one-point victory in the M.A.C. Center.

Last week, McCrea showed just how dominant he can be in the MAC, averaging 29.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 6.0 blocks against stiff competition in Kent State and Akron. His play also earned him the MAC East Division Player of the Week.

If McCrea continues to put up these crazy numbers, he could have a field day against the Bobcats, who have struggled all year to control big men. Just recently, Ohio gave up 24 points and seven rebounds to Bowling Green’s A’uston Calhoun. He was knocking down everything until the Bobcats began to double-team the 6-foot-7 forward and forced him the pass, a similar strategy they utilized on past opponents.

Ohio has a different issue when it comes to McCrea, though. How do they stop a big man with the arsenal of moves he has? McCrea isn’t just a jump shooter or a ground-and-pound, inside guy. No, he can do it all, which made it difficult for Akron’s Demetrius Treadwell to defend.

Treadwell, who guarded Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper for several possessions in the Feb. 27 game, was caught several times in the wrong position when playing against McCrea. At 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, McCrea uses the glass to perfection on 5-to-10 foot jumpers and has to strength to bang it in down low. He also has shown moderate range, as he nailed a deep two against the Zips on Saturday.

As McCrea continues to make a statement for the MAC Player of the Year, his guard, Skeete, continues to build on his freshman year and is finding his groove in the team’s offensive scoring.

The 6-foot-3 guard started the year receiving little minutes off the bench, but has become a starter and huge contributor for the Bulls in MAC play. He’s scored in double-digits in four of the team’s last five games and has also distributed 5.2 assists during that stretch, which also included his first career double-double against Miami.

Tony Watson II is another guard that has stepped up greatly in Buffalo’s last five games, going on a three-game stretch of 26.3 points per game. He scored 13 points and distributed 6 assists against Akron, while Buffalo’s other scoring big man Will Regan contributed 16 points.

The Bobcats shored up the No. 2 seed in the MAC Tournament and can only move up to the No. 1 seed if Miami and Kent State are able to both beat Akron this week. Buffalo, on the other hand, is currently in a three-way tie at 7-7 in the MAC and is fighting for the No. 4 seed.

One particular Bobcat will be attempting to make history on Tuesday, as Cooper is six points away from reaching 2,000 points for his career. If he’s able to reach this milestone in Buffalo, he’ll become the first player in NCAA Division-I history with 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds and 300 steals. He’s also one three-pointer away from breaking Tommy Freeman’s Ohio record of 259 career makes.

Ohio, as a team, is three assists from reaching 540 on the season, which would break the all-time program record set in 1987-88.

Cooper and the Bobcats will attempt to make history Tuesday against Buffalo, as Ohio looks to improve to 7-1 on the road in the MAC for the first time in program history. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. in the Alumni Arena.