Pair of wins over top teams in SUNYAC keeps Bengals in fourth place


Dave DeLuca/ The Record

Senior forward Chris Thompson (23) had a double-double with 10 points and a team-high 13 rebounds in a 60-54 win over Cortland on Friday night and scored 13 points on Saturday.

Anthony Reyes, Associate Sports Editor

The Buffalo State men’s basketball team pulled off a pair of exciting wins over the weekend to keep them in the thick of the playoff picture. Friday night, they defeated Cortland 60-54, and Saturday afternoon, they took out Oswego, 80-76.

The three-game win streak puts the Bengals at 13-7 overall, 9-5 within the SUNYAC, which puts them in third place, moving them ahead of Cortland and only a loss behind second place Oswego.

Celebration music blared, players streamed in and out of the locker room, and head coach Fajri Ansari stood tall outside the door in the hallway with a content look on his face. He was content with the win, but not with the team’s position.

“We haven’t really accomplished anything,” Ansari said. “We didn’t secure a playoff spot, so we have to keep fighting. You know, we’re not looking behind; we’ve got to look ahead.”

That was the majority opinion throughout the whole locker room.

“On to the next game,” sophomore guard Jordan Glover said. “Every game is the next biggest game of the season. Play every game like it’s a playoff game.”

The Bengals came into the weekend with a 7-5 conference record, which put them in fourth place. They would be taking on the two teams ahead of them in the standings over the next two days with their playoff lives on the line. They showed the ability to scratch, claw, and battle their way to victory in both games.

Friday night versus Cortland, the Bengals jumped out to a big lead early. They were up 23-10 with about seven minutes to go in the first half and headed into halftime with a 32-24 lead. The offense continued the scoring in the second half, jumping out to their largest lead of the game, 46-30, with about ten minutes to go.

The Bengals seemed to get complacent, as Cortland began an 11-0 run which would bring them within five points of the Bengals with a little over five minutes to go. The Bengals’ lead would eventually get cut to three, but that’s as close as it would get, as Buffalo State would hit five free throws in the final minute to close the door on the Cortland comeback.

“We started out real slow, real sluggish, not playing to the level of competition,” said senior guard Roderick Epps. “We just realized that that’s not our game. The final score, we scored 60 points. That’s not our game. We should be over 80 points.”

At the final buzzer, it was 60-54, Bengals. Buffalo State shot 37.5 percent from the floor, 33.3 percent from three-point range, and 56.5 percent from the free throw line. Cortland finished with nearly the same percentages, as they shot 32.8 percent from the floor, 30 percent from three-point range, and 61.5 percent from the free throw line.

The Bengal offense was led by sophomore guard Lovell Smith, who had his third double-double of the season. He registered 16 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Senior guards Roderick Epps and Chris Cartwright also added 14 points and five rebounds of their own, while senior forward Chris Thompson added a double-double of his own.

Saturday afternoon, Oswego came to town for another big SUNYAC showdown and those in attendance were treated to a back-and-forth battle.

Early in the game, Oswego seemed to be controlling the glass, snatching up just about every rebound there was, that would result in an early 19-11 lead. The Bengals then began to push back and controlled the glass well, resulting in an 18-4 run. They went up by nine at one point, but went into halftime with a slim 45-42 lead.

The Lakers would begin their comeback to start the second half, scoring the first 10 points, taking a 52-45 lead. The Bengals would come close and tie the game three times, but they weren’t able to take the lead until Epps drained two free throws with 4:41 to go. The following three minutes were intense, fast-break basketball, which would result in Oswego tying the game at 76 with just about a minute remaining.

With 39 seconds remaining in the game and the score tied, Cartwright handled the ball at the top of the arc, assessed the defense and then turned on the jets, powering to the hoop and nailing the layup to give the Bengals a two-point lead.

Following the layup, the Buffalo State bench roared, “De-fense!” And that’s what they got, along with a little bit of luck. Oswego committed a backcourt violation and would grant the Bengals a one-and-one, but they would miss the first and Oswego would get the ball back.

After Oswego got the ball, they looked to inbound, and Epps came up big. He stole the inbound pass and was fouled and then hit two big free throws to put the Bengals up by four with eight seconds left.

“Honestly, I was just playing basketball,” Epps said. “I figured I just had to take a chance and believe my teammates would pick me up if it was the wrong decision”

A chance that paid off in the end for the Bengals, who would shut the door on yet another late game comeback and walk off the court with an 80-76 victory.

“I’m proud of them, I just wish they wouldn’t have put us in the hole,” Ansari said after the Oswego game. “We did the same thing last night, we came out slow in the second half. I guess sometimes it’s hard to try to turn that intensity on but whenever the ball is live we have got to be ready.

“Just like boxing, [when] the bell sounds, you have got to protect yourself at all times. So, we have got to protect our basket and be alert at all times.”

The Bengals offense had five players in double figures, led by Epps who had 20 points and five rebounds. With his 20 points, Epps became the third player to score 1,400 points in his time at Buffalo State. The Bengal offense as a whole shot a season-high 62 percent from the field.

“I think it was really a team effort,” Ansari said. “Jordan (Glover) hadn’t scored a lot but he helped us with some points today, helping control the game. Rod (Epps) came up big at the end of both games, and the other guys, they’ve been steady, so I can’t really just say its one person.”

“It was a team effort and we had good support from the bench. Even if guys didn’t play, that’s how we want it to be.”

Glover felt his team bounced back in a big way this weekend.

“It was huge,” Glover said. “When we went down there to Cortland and Oswego, we gave up two games that we should have won. The Cortland game we let get away, and the Oswego game we just didn’t show up to play as a team collectively, so this was huge.”

“I think we’re in third right now, but like I said, every game is the next biggest game, because nobody is locked in at this point.”

Buffalo State wasn’t able to keep its brief three-game winning streak intact on Tuesday, falling to Geneseo, 78-72. Epps scored 24 points in a losing effort, while Smith (15 points), Glover (13 points) and Cartwright (10 points) each scored double figures.