Buffalo’s Alumni Arena continued to serve as the temple of doom for the University of Akron on Saturday night.
The Bulls upset the Zips 81-67, ending UA’s nation-leading winning streak at 19 games.
It was also the first blemish on the Zips’ Mid-American Conference record.
Led by Javon McCrea’s 26 points and six rebounds, the Bulls (12-17, 7-7 MAC) upset the Zips (23-5, 13-1) and topped visiting UA for the fourth consecutive time on their home court.
Senior center Zeke Marshall led the Zips with 17 points and six rebounds.
For the Zips, the equation for their first loss since Dec. 15 proved simple.
It was too much McCrea, too little offense and not-so-great defense.
It’s not that McCrea scored, it’s more how he found it easy going from mid-range toward the basket. He connected on 13-of-18 shots in the game.
“I thought we tried. It’s a long season. We traveled,” UA coach Keith Dambrot said. “We just didn’t have it. We didn’t have much energy.”
But give the rest of the Bulls credit as well.
They made the Zips’ offense look flat. UA connected on just 41 percent of its shots and just 19 percent from behind the 3-point arc. More important, any time the Zips appeared as if they were ready to flip the switch and go on a substantial run, the Bulls gathered themselves behind McCrea to blunt any such momentum.
When the Zips went ahead for only the second time in the game at 15:42 of the second half 42-41, those who’ve followed UA could have felt confident that the switch had been flipped.
Instead, it strengthened Buffalo’s resolve and the Bulls proceeded to outscore the Zips the rest of the way, reversing the deficit and building on their defensive momentum.
“We cut it back, but we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Dambrot said, “and [McCrea] made some plays. We had open threes and we didn’t make them and they made theirs. Psychologically, it affected us.”
In some respects, the Zips have been a team living on the edge in some of their recent games, relying on their comeback ability to pull out close games. Buffalo and Ohio had come closest to defeating UA earlier in MAC play.
Even the Zips’ depth advantage didn’t help. The Bulls played their five starters 32 minutes or more in the win. Despite that clear advantage, the UA reserves only outscored Buffalo’s 7-6.
“It happens to everybody,” Dambrot said. “Duke loses on the road … everybody loses on the road. Are we disappointed? Yes. Are we happy about it? No. By the same token, we have to bounce back. We can’t let one game affect a great season.”