A boisterous crowd saw the two team’s trade scoring streaks in the opening half. The Bulls rattled off an 8-0 run early in the first, following a quick 3-3 tie, to take an 11-3 lead. Regan paced UB with 14 in 16 first half minutes. He was 5-6 shooting from the field, which included a three-pointer. The sophomore also grabbed six rebounds in the half to lead team. Javon McCrea was held in check by the Purple Eagles in the half. The forward did not make a field goal in the first, with his only three points of the half coming from the free throw line.
Niagara’s scoring in the first was spread out among five players. A pair of Purple Eagles players scored six points, while Juan’ya Green added four points. Freshman T.J. Cline contributed eight points in the half thanks to a perfect 4-4 shooting from the free throw line. In addition to six points, Antoine Mason paced the team on the glass with four rebounds. The Purple Eagles biggest run of the half was a six-point streak that tied the game 18-18 partway through the half.
However, the Bulls would outscore Niagara 19-10 to close the half, and take a 37-28 lead into the break. It was a physical first half of play, with each team committing 10 personal fouls, and drawing the ire of each bench. Coach Joe Mihalich was assessed a technical foul late in the half after arguing a foul call with officials.
The Purple Eagles pulled within a basket several times in the second half, but clutch shooting kept Niagara from tying or taking the lead. Three separate times the Bulls led by just three points, but a three-point basket extended the lead.
UB’s lead ballooned to eight, 66-58, with under four minutes to go in the game and the Bulls did not look back. The largest lead of the half came a few minutes later thanks to a Jarod Oldham free throw to make the score 67-58, but Niagara answered with a three-pointer.
McCrea finished the night with just 3 points and 4 rebounds in 21 minutes. Green led all Purple Eagles scorers with 23 points in 37 minutes. Three different Niagara scorers finished in double figures. Cline and Mason finished the night with 10 and 18 points, respectively. The win gives UB four-straight wins over the Purple Eagles, and nine of the last eleven overall.
Sitting courtside at Alumni Arena within a distance to be able to hear both coaches and the benches is something worth being able to listen to in a rivalry game. Bulls coach Reggie Witherspoon and Purple Eagles coach Joe Mihalich were battling each other and working the officials once again Saturday Night.
Mihalich has the label of the “Big 4 elder” as he has been behind the Niagara bench for 15 seasons. He now has a career 6-9 record vs. Buffalo. Mihalich is the all-time leader in coaching wins in the MAAC with 249. It makes you wonder how many times he’s been offered jobs elsewhere and chosen to stay. Most coaches with his resume in the MAAC would have moved on to more glamorous basketball schools. In my opinion, it’s all the more reason to root for him to continue to succeed. Mihalich, from the media standpoint, is great. He’s interesting, insightful and not afraid to actually give you an opinion. He told me in an interview on WGR a month ago that he thought Canisius had the most talent in the conference. I’m sure new Griffs coach Jim Baron loved that. He was quite animated throughout most of the game, which is great for the spectators, especially those who are close to the bench. He needed to be restrained from baseline official after foul call in 1st half. He yelled halfway across the Arena to TJ Cline, yelling, “TJ what are you doing!!!” after an errant pass. Cline looked terrified. Mihalich then later picked up a technical foul in final minute of half and then barks back to the official “Jesus Christ is not a technical foul”.
Witherspoon had a rather reserved night other than one eruption in the first half after Javon McCrea got hacked and no call was made. Reggie’s jacket was removed after a poor box out on a Niagara free throw that gave the Purple Eagles a free layup. (The jacket removal is a regular occurrence) The student section loves it. He muttered something likely not suitable for this article. Witherspoon could have a chance at getting 200 career wins with UB this season. He now has 188 wins with 20 games remaining on the schedule plus the MAC tournament. Bulls assistant coach Jim Kwitchoff had some great lines as Mihalich continued his work on the officials in the first half saying, “give him (Mihalich) the whistle” after disagreeing with a foul call. Later in the second half, Niagara guard Antoine Mason hits a 3-pointer, turns around and puts the 3 fingers up in face of UB guard Auraum Nuiriankh and Kwitchoff says quite loudly to his player “when he talks (expletive), ignore him!”