By Jonah Bronstein
AMHERST — It wasn’t a happy homecoming for the Buffalo Bulls.
Jeremiah Wood, leader of the visiting Akron Zips, compared Saturday night’s game at Alumni Arena to a boxing match.
“We ain’t going to come out looking pretty,” he said. “You feel me?”
What the Bulls felt was the pain of another loss. And this one they can’t blame on the pitfalls of the road.
Playing its first home game in 42 days, UB fought hard, but ultimately lost 76-68, dropping to 0-2 in Mid-American Conference games.
A crowd of 2,373 watched the Bulls (6-8overall) suffer their third straight loss and first defeat in five home games. They also watched starting center Vadim Fedotov go down late in the second half. Fedotov, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament as a freshman, was holding the same knee and howling in pain.
UB coach Reggie Witherspoon said after the game he did not have an update on Fedotov’s condition.
Calvin Betts eclipsed a career high with 17 points for the Bulls. He also had eight rebounds. Starting guards Andy Robinson and Rodney Pierce combined for 27 points and nine assists. Sean Smiley, the Bulls leading scorer coming in, had just 3 points on 1-of-11 shooting.
UB missed 10 layups in the game, according to the official scorebook. Seven of those came in the second half.
“We have to find some determination around the basket,” Witherspoon said. “It’s our guards and our big men.
“... When we get point black shots around the rim, we need to convert.”
Lack of inside scoring has recently prompted Witherspoon to use Betts, a 6-foot-3 sophomore from Rochester, at power forward for long stretches. Betts said he’s comfortable at what was his high school position, but it’s clear he’s at a size disadvantage.
Akron (12-3, 2-0) had four players in double figures, led by Wood, who scored 16. Cedrick Middleton, whose older brother Roderick played at UB, combined with Nick Dials and Quade Milum to go 23-for-24 from the free throw line.
Akron made 28 of 31 free throws. The Bulls went 5 for 9 from the line.
The Zips opened 11-point leads twice in the second half, but the Bulls used a 1-3-1 zone to make it a one-possession game on two occasions, the last coming on a baseline drive by Greg Gamble with 3:32 left that made it 62-59.
“That was coaching genius,” Akron’s Keith Dambrot. “I’ve been here seven years (three as an assistant, two as head coach). We’ve never seen them play a 1-3-1. It damn near won them the game.”
It was clear afterward that the Bulls left an impression on their visitors.
“First off, when I say something, I don’t say something lightly,” Dambrot said to begin his postgame interview. “Buffalo plays harder than any team in this league. We knew that it was going to be a difficult, difficult game.”