AMHERST, N.Y. - My, how things have changed at the University at Buffalo. The Bulls don't roll over for anyone in the Mid-American Conference any more.
Buffalo, the longtime mutt of the MAC, erased a 15-point Toledo lead in the latter stages of the second half yesterday and stunned the Rockets 56-54 at Alumni Arena for the Bulls' first win over UT.
The Bulls put together a 20-0 run late in the game to lead by five with four minutes left. The Rockets got within two on Keith Triplett's baseline jump shot with just over a minute left, but couldn't convert several rushed shots in the closing seconds.
"We had a lead and didn't hold it," Toledo coach Stan Joplin said after watching his team fall to 5-7 on the season and 1-2 in conference play. "We put ourselves in position to win, but we just didn't finish the game."
Buffalo, which went 14-58 in its first four seasons in the MAC, came into 2004-05 as the favorite in the MAC East after going 11-7 last year and returning all of its team. The Rockets, the preseason favorite to win the West Division and the overall MAC title, provided Buffalo (9-3, 2-2) with a landmark victory, despite Triplett's game-high 24 points.
"This is the first time we've ever beaten Toledo," UB coach Reggie Witherspoon said, "and that is important for us, and for the opponent. We needed to change their mindset and make them fear losing to us, and from the expressions on their faces, it looked like it changed in the second half."
Toledo had built a 48-33 lead with about 11 minutes to play in the game and it looked like things might be over at that point. The Rockets got that advantage with their defense, which seemed to ignite things at the other end of the floor.
"This is by far the best game we've played defensively," said Joplin, whose team won a 97-85 score-a-thon over the Bulls in last season's conference tournament. "But I didn't feel comfortable with a 15-point lead, and we just couldn't sustain it. We have to have some mental toughness in those situations."
UT shot just 32.8 percent from the field.
While the Bulls were on that 20-point run that turned the outcome in their favor, Toledo missed eight straight field-goal tries, and turned the ball over six times. When 6-10 Yassin Idbihi hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with eight minutes to play, he cut UT's lead to 48-44. A minute later, Mario Jordan, who led Buffalo with 14 points, scored inside to tie it at 48-48, and then Turner Battle's driving basket with 4:48 left gave Buffalo its first lead since early in the game at 50-48.
"This is the team that knocked us out of the tournament last year," Battle said, "but we felt if we played defense on them, we could cause them to take some bad shots. We had to get back in the game by playing defense, and when I looked into the eyes of the guys in our huddle, I knew we were going to do it."
UB opened the lead up to 56-50 with 2:20 to play, then hung on during the frenetic final moments that saw the Rockets miss four shots at tying it after getting within two on Triplett's basket.
"It was like there was a lid on the basket, and we didn't get stops when we needed to, and we took some ill-advised shots," Joplin said. "I thought we got fouled [at the end], but they didn't call it. It doesn't matter when it is in the game, you've got to make those calls."
The Rockets were fortunate they did not find themselves in a big hole from the start, as they hit just three of their first 15 shots from the field, but trailed only 13-7 about nine minutes into the game. A 3-pointer from the corner by Triplett and another by Keonta Howell erased that deficit in about 30 seconds.
Toledo took its first lead with 9:20 left in the half when Triplett stole the ball out front and fed a breaking Howell for a layup and a 15-13 advantage.
The Rockets got another 3 off the fast break from Howell, and a jump shot in the lane from Allen Pinson and built a 20-13 lead with 6:45 left after trailing 13-5 early in the half. Toledo held the Bulls without a point for five and a half minutes, and went on to lead 26-19 at the half.
Toledo got 11 points from Anton Currie, but he was the only other Rocket besides Triplett in double figures.
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.