No. 25 Buffalo wary of division-leading Toledo
A pair of conference losses jeopardized Buffalo's status as a Top 25 team. Toledo hopes to bounce the Bulls out of the rankings, and possibly take their place.
Ranked 25th in the latest poll, Buffalo will play at Toledo on Friday night in a showdown between division leaders in the Mid-American Conference.
The Bulls (21-3 overall, 9-2 league) are tied with Bowling Green in the East Division, while the Rockets (20-4, 8-3) hold the top spot in the West.
Buffalo has defeated Central Michigan and Akron since Bowling Green handed the preseason favorite its second MAC loss. The Bulls are the first ranked team in 20 years to play at Toledo's Savage Arena, where the natives will be ready for their marked visitors.
"Both teams are at the top of their divisions," Rockets athletic director Mike O'Brien told the Toledo Blade. "These teams played for the conference championship last year in Cleveland. I think it is the perfect storm. We don't have ranked opponents at Savage very often. This just happens to be a league opponent, which makes it that much better."
Buffalo is finding life as a ranked team and the conference's top dog burdensome.
The Bulls nearly gave away a nine-point lead in the final minute against the Zips, who have never beaten a ranked team, but held for a 76-70 victory on Tuesday.
"We're getting everybody's best shot now," guard Davonta Jordan told the Buffalo News. "People are just trying to come back and get at us, so we've got a target on our back now."
The Bulls are shooting 46.5 percent from the field this season and averaging 84.7 points but they struggled with Akron's ability to slow the game down.
"They're a better defensive team than we are, and I think it showed (Tuesday)," coach Nate Oats said. "It was difficult for us to score for long stretches of the game. ... We just didn't close it very well. We've got to do a better job of closing games."
The Bulls had no trouble putting away the Rockets in the first meeting between the conference powerhouses last month. Buffalo scored 65 second-half points in a 110-80 blowout. Senior guard Jeremy Harris erupted for 34 points and added seven rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Toledo heads into the rematch with a five-game winning streak. It captured a quality win at Bowling Green on Saturday. Senior guard Chris Darrington scored 20 points, one shy of his season high, in the 78-71 victory.
Darrington is the fifth-leading scorer (9.8 points per game) in a balanced attack. The Rockets have six players averaging nine or more points, led by senior guard Jaelan Sanford (15.8 ppg). Darrington scored a team-high 21 points off the bench at Buffalo while Sanford was held to three points.
Coach Tod Kowalczyk expects a packed house and a frenzied atmosphere when the Bulls come to town.
"I think people in this community know that this is a very good team," he said. "Obviously, we have a good opponent with a nationally ranked Buffalo team coming in. I like to think this is an easy sellout, as it should be."
--Field Level Media
Copyright 2019 by STATS. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.
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