Bengals’ hot shooting ends in mixed results on road

Men’s basketball scorches New Paltz but can’t complete late comeback against Oneonta

Young teams sometimes struggle to perfect the little things.

The Buffalo State men’s basketball roster is compiled of youth and has just two seniors. Free-throw shooting — one of the little things — has plagued the Bengals this season, shooting just 61 percent from the charity stripe, and the Bengals rank dead last in the SUNYAC in free-throw shooting percentage.

But in Friday’s 98-74 road win over New Paltz, Buffalo State was able to ride consistent free-throw shooting (21-31, 71 percent), coupled with an efficient offense, to victory.

“We take every opportunity we can to shoot free-throws,” Buffalo State assistant coach Kevin Glover. “Six or seven times per practice we take five to seven minutes to shoot free-throws in between drills. It’s something that we’ve focused on as a coaching staff. Our guys just have to get a little more strong-minded to knock them down when they get to the line. We’ve done a better job at that of late.”

Buffalo State was led by senior Justin Mitchell, who poured in 29 points on 11-of-13 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds. Mitchell is third in the SUNYAC in scoring, averaging 20.7 points per game. He’s scoring efficiently, too, shooting 64.8 percent from the field, second in the league.

“I think he can pretty much score on anyone in this league,” head coach Fajri Ansari said. “He can score inside and outside. We don’t have a true center this year so he’s scoring more in the paint. I think he’d like to play on the perimeter more, which he’s capable of. Percentage wise, he’s shooting it really well close to the basket.”

Junior Roderick Epps had 20 points, his fourth-straight game with 20 or more.

The Bengals have 11 players on their roster that have started at least one game this season. Having a deep bench has helped their up-tempo offensive attack. Against New Paltz, the Bengals benefited from 34 points off the bench — 13 coming from freshman guard Jordan Glover, who also added five assists.

“Our bench played a big part,” Glover said. “Our team is different because we have a lot of players that can come off the bench but can start too. Honestly, I think we have one of the deepest benches in the conference, if not the deepest. Not a lot of teams have 12-13 players that can come off the bench and give quality minutes.”

The Bengals trailed 29-28 with 5:33 left until a dunk by Chris Thompson ignited a 14-2 run for Buffalo State to take a 42-31 lead. But New Paltz would close it to just three at the half.

In the second half, Epps and Mitchell took over, combining for 36 of the teams 54 points in the frame. Mitchell scored 17 of his game-high 29 in the second half, without missing a shot (7-of-7). Epps scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half.

Against Oneonta on Saturday, the Bengals trailed 72-62 with 4:35 left before sophomore Chris Boyd found the hot-hand from deep, canning three 3-pointers in a two minute span to bring the Bengals within four.

Oneonta increased their lead to seven with 1:30 left but Buffalo State would not go away as Epps and Boyd hit back-to-back buckets to make it just a two point game with 14 seconds left.

Oneonta’s Zack Mager hit a pair at the line to give them a four-point lead before Epps hit a three at the buzzer — but it wasn’t enough for Buffalo State, which dropped to 11-10 overall and 7-7 in SUNYAC, despite shooting 10-of-18 from behind the 3-point line.

“Our league is so tough. Even though you can beat someone at home solidly that doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to beat that team on the road,” Ansari said, referring to his team’s 21-point win over Oneonta back in December. “When you have a game that close and the other team is shooting equally as well, it’s the fundamental things that make the difference.”

Mitchell was once again Buffalo State’s high-point man with 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Epps had 15 while Boyd and Legree Kirkland had 12 apiece.

It doesn’t get any easier for Buffalo State, which hosts the top two teams in the SUNYAC this coming weekend. Brockport (17-2 overall, 11-1 league) travels to the Sports Arena on Friday and Geneseo (16-2 overall, 10-2 league) on Saturday. Brockport is ranked No. 15 in the country.

“The main problem is they have a lot of experience playing with one another,” said Ansari of Brockport. “They have seven seniors within their rotation and three of them played with each other in high school. They have added years of experience atop of their college experience. They have some good guards, but I think we have some speed that can match up with them.”

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Twitter: @DaveDelucaSJ