Saturday, February 28, 2004
Bulls shedding reputation as MAC pushover
Closing in on RedHawks in standings
By Mark Schmetzer
The silver lining of Miami's loss at Northern Illinois on Wednesday: Toledo also lost.
That allowed the RedHawks, who are second in the Mid-American Conference East Division, to maintain their half-game edge over the Rockets, who are second in the West Division, in the race for third place in the overall standings.
Miami 15-9 (10-5 MAC) would get a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament if it can hold on to the position. But another team has slipped into contention for that prize - Buffalo is on a four-game winning streak and has pulled within two games of Miami in the overall standings.
Miami can nip the Bulls' hopes in the bud with a win today at Millett Hall in Oxford. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m., or about 45 minutes after the end of the game between the Miami and Buffalo women's teams, starting at 2 p.m.
The RedHawks beat the Bulls by 10 points at Buffalo on Jan. 7.
"We played such a good game the first time around that it makes it much tougher in this game," Miami coach Charlie Coles said. "They've seen us at our best, and we have to estimate how good they can be. Buffalo is the most improved team in the league. From January until now, nobody has improved like Buffalo."
Buffalo's four consecutive wins constitute the MAC's longest current winning streak. The Bulls (13-11, 8-7) have won five of their last six games and eight of their last 10, and they are coming off perhaps their biggest win of the season, an 82-66 victory over East Division-leading Kent State on Wednesday. The win gave legitimacy to the win streak, which previously had been made up of victories over sub-.500 teams.
Yassin Idbihi, Buffalo's 6-foot-10 freshman center, went 4-for-4 on 3-point shots and scored 16 points against Kent State. Junior Daniel Gilbert scored a career-high 22 points to bump his season average to 9.0 per game.
The youthful Bulls, who are third in the East Division behind Kent State and Miami, have just one senior, a backup.
Junior guard Turner Battle leads the team in scoring, and had 13 points and nine assists in Wednesday's win over the Golden Flashes.
Buffalo's second-leading scorer is sophomore Mario Jordan, who averages 10.5 points in a substitute role.
Buffalo, which has never won in five previous visits to Millett Hall, will try to clinch its first winning season since 1997-98. The Bulls play Ohio at home on Wednesday, before closing out the regular season with a visit to Akron next Saturday.
Miami must play at Kent State on Wednesday, and finish the season against Marshall at home.
Toledo, which has lost four in a row and five of its last six, plays West Division-champion Western Michigan today and travels to Mount Pleasant, Mich., to finish the season against last-place Central Michigan on Wednesday.
"Our first focus is trying to improve with each game, and we didn't do that at Northern Illinois," Coles said. "Second, obviously, we want to try to win the rest of our games. Third is to get that first-round bye, which is so important."
Miami vs. Buffalo
Tipoff: 4 p.m. today, Millett Hall (9,200), Oxford.
Records: Buffalo 13-11 (8-7 Mid-American Conference), Miami 15-9 (10-5 MAC).
Radio: WCKY-AM (1360), WMOH-AM (1450).
Line: Miami by 6.
Series: Miami leads, 10-1.
Coach: Reggie Witherspoon (37-96, fifth season; 81-119 overall).
Coach: Charlie Coles (135-102, eighth season; 227-186 overall).
|Monty St. Clair||Fr.||6-9||3.8|
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