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Bobcats hang tough but fall short against Bulls

MAC leaders hold advantage from start to finish

ATHENS – Unbeaten in the Mid-American Conference, Buffalo led from start to finish in a 73-66 victory against Ohio on Friday evening at The Convo.

Nick Perkins had 20 points and seven rebounds, and Jeremy Harris finished with 17 points and 10 boards. CJ Massinburg tallied 11 points and eight rebounds, and Ikenna Smart had 10 points and 14 rebounds as the Bulls (16-5, 8-0 MAC) had a 51-38 advantage on the boards.

Teyvion Kirk led the Bobcats (9-11, 2-6 MAC) with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Mike Laster, Jordan Dartis and Kevin Mickle had 11 points apiece.

"In wins, losses, everything in between, what I'm looking for is progress and, certainly, some progress was made tonight," Ohio coach Saul Phillips said. "I don't want to be part of a program where 2-6 is OK. I don't. I'm not going to be. But, we take care of a few things a little bit better, and we just knocked off a team that hasn't had anybody come within 10 points of them."

Smart scored inside and Harris hit a 3-pointer on Buffalo’s first two possessions, and the Bulls held the lead the rest of the way. It is the second straight game in which Ohio never held the lead.

The Bobcats got as close as 14-13 when Zach Butler recovered Doug Taylor’s block of Massinburg and passed ahead to Mickle for dunk midway through the first half.

Buffalo, though, followed with an 8-0 run to regain control. Ohio got back to within three on a pair of Gavin Block free throws with 5:05 left in the half, but the Bulls were able to stretch the lead to 31-22 by the break.

With a Wes Clark jumper and a Massinburg 3-pointer, Buffalo took its biggest lead, 36-22, right away in the second half.

After the teams traded 3-pointers, the Bobcats made their best run of the night, scoring nine straight points – seven of them by Kirk – getting back in the game at 39-34 with 14:42 remaining.

Again, Buffalo went back up double-digits, Ohio worked it back to 50-44 on two Jordan Dartis free throws midway through the second half, and then the Bulls had a dominant stretch, going up 65-52 on a Perkins 3-pointer with 4:48 to go.

The Bobcats made it a game one last time. Kirk knocked down a 3-pointer and then assisted on a Laster layup and Dartis hit a pair of foul shots to make it 65-59 with 3:38 remaining. Despite holding the Bulls scoreless for three more possessions after that, the Bobcats failed to take advantage, coming up empty, including missing a pair of free throws.

Finally, the Bulls snapped a three-minute scoreless stretch with a Harris 3-pointer. Laster answered with one of his own and turned it into a four-point play with a free throw to make it 68-63 with 1:36 to go. The Bobcats got no closer, though.

"We know we probably did the best in the conference in stopping them, so that's a plus," Kirk said. "We still got a lot of work to do. Hopefully, moving forward, we can work hard so we can pull that one out next time."

Ohio hung around despite shooting just 33.8 percent for the game. Buffalo shot 42.2 percent. The Bulls had more turnovers, 16-13.

"We put in a game plan defensively that our guys executed about as well as you can," Phillips said. "Kept them out of transition. Kept them under one point per possession. It put us in a spot where if you make a couple plays down the stretch, you can walk away with a much-needed win. Unfortunately, there was a stretch where we had a missed dunk, we missed an open 3, got it back, missed two free throws. Those are the opportunities that seem to be eluding us right now. Thirty-three percent (shooting) isn't going to be good enough to beat Buffalo."

The Bobcats take on Bowling Green at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Stroh Center.

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