By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette — AMHERST — Blame the Princeton offense for the Los Angelas Lakers' early season struggles. But it was the Princeton defense that doomed the University at Buffalo men's basketball team in Saturday's season opener.
The Bulls shot 35 percent and turned the ball over on nearly a third of their possessions in a 57-53 loss to Princeton in front of 4,450 fans at Alumni Arena.
"Because people talk about the Princeton offense so much, the most underrated part of what they do is defend," UB coach Reggie Witherspoon said.
UB didn't score for the first 7:52 of the game and went without a field goal for a five-minute stretch in the second half while the Tigers went on a pivotal 12-2 run.
"They executed and we turned it over a few times," said forward Javon McCrea, who led the Bulls with 22 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. "I don't think we deserved to win the game."
Still, UB had a chance to pull out the win. Tony Watson sank a straightaway 3-pointer to cut Princeton's lead to 54-52 with 1:27 left and McCrea, after blocking a shot at the rim, drew a foul on the other end and went to the line with 41 seconds remaining on the clock. After making the first free throw, McCrea missed his chance to tie the game.
Will Barrett, who led the Tiers with 20 points and nine rebounds, made a 3 with 8.8 seconds left to seal the win.
The Bulls went with a 2-3 zone defense for most of the game to try and thwart Princeton's precision offense. It worked early, as the Tigers shot 1 for 13 from beyond the arc and 30 percent overall in the first half. But they hit five 3-pointers in the second half, including a 30-footer at the end of the shot clock from Clay Wilson that Witherspoon said he will "see over and over again in my sleep," and finished the game with 24 points in the paint. The Tigers also had 17 assists and only 10 turnovers, compared to UB's eight-to-18 ratio.
Witherspoon also hoped the zone would keep his key players out of foul trouble, but that didn't turn out to be the case. McCrea sat out the final 14 minutes of the first half after picking up his second foul, and reserve big man Cameron Downing played only 10 minutes because of his four fouls.
"Foul trouble really hurt us," Witherspoon said.
Amherst native Will Regan started at center in his first game since transferring from Virginia. He had seven points and five rebounds in 33 minutes.
"It's going to take him a while to get up to speed with things," Witherspoon said. "He's still looking to see what's going to happen, instead of anticipating."
Watson was the only other Bull in double figures with 10 points off the bench. Jarod Oldham had seven points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
UB won't have much time to dwell on the loss. Immediately after today's practice, they will fly out to play Monday at Florida State, which was ranked in the top 25 nationally before losing to South Alabama on Friday night.
"It'll be another learning experience for us," Witherspoon said. "Doesn't mean always have to lose to learn."