"We lost our poise tonight," Marshall coach Greg White said after the game. "I've been coaching here for six years, and that's the first time I've seen that happen."
What White was referring to was the systematic dismantling of the Marshall squad by a combination of gritty Buffalo basketball, some bizarre officiating (to be nice), and a loss of composure after Marshall had a 16-point lead in the first half.
The dismantling began at the 12:37 mark of the first half. Marshall's Tamar Slay, with two fouls already called on him, was called for a third foul in a span of 7:23. Slay objected vehemently, smacked the ball, and was abruptly called for a technical foul. With Slay out, Marshall was forced to rely on Ron Blackshear to carry the scoring load.
Marshall guard Ron Blackshear stepped up his game when MU's Tamar Slay hit early foul trouble. Blackshear finished with an impressive 25 points, 10 rebounds.
And Blackshear did. Marshall went on a 28-11 run over the next 8 minutes of play that shot the Herd out to a comfy 43-27 lead with 3:42 left in the first half. Blackshear kept hitting three-pointers via feeds from Richard Wilson, and the Herd appeared to be in control despite Slay's absence.
"We had a lot of missed opportunities," MU's Latece Williams said. "We kind of broke down defensively, especially towards the end of the first half. They had a lot of penetrations that were kicked out for threes, and that kind of got their momentum going at halftime."
Then, Buffalo got hot. The Bulls answered back with a 14-3 run to finish the half that featured a couple of Davis Lawerence three-pointers. Marshall took a five-point lead, 46-41, into the lockerroom at the half. Marshall center J.R. VanHoose also racked up two fouls in the first half, and had to sit the bench with Slay. Both Slay (21 minutes) and VanHoose (19 minutes) saw limited playing time due to foul troubles.
Buffalo came out on fire in the second half, tying the game at 48 apiece on Turner Battle's three-pointer at the 18:44 mark. The Bulls then went on an 18-5 run of their own over the next 7 minutes that enabled Buffalo to pull away to a comfy 64-51 lead of their own.
"We just kept digging in, one possession at a time," Buffalo's Darcell Williams said. "We were able to do things while he (Slay) was on the bench. I think that was a big impact, him (Slay) going down on the bench."
The run was fueled by controversial dual double-technical fouls being called after the Herd and the Bulls had a small altercation on the court. MU's William Butler and Darcell Williams received the first technicals for the altercation. Moments later, MU's Monty Wright and UB's Robert Brown were also both hit with technicals for reacting to the first incident. Somehow in the mix, Marshall -which had possession of the ball before the technicals were called- lost possession to Buffalo. In a game which had a total of 54 fouls called, the possession issue was one of the more visible questions left unanswered by the spotty Mid-American Conference officiating crew of Mark Masariu, Keith Herring, and Mike Fox.
"Certainly, to lose is disappointing," White continued. "But you've got to be able to play through the officials, play through the adversity, just play good basketball, play hard."
With their cages fully rattled, Marshall never really battled back the rest of the way. Marshall did cut the UB lead down to seven points on four occasions. The straw that broke the camel's back occurred in a span of two minutes, 36 seconds. Mid-American Conference official Mark Masariu hit J.R. VanHoose with three fouls in that time span, and VanHoose had fouled out.
Enoch Bunch's three-pointer as time ran out cut the UB lead to four, and set the final 82-78 score.
Marshall shot a dismal 40.7% from the field (24-of-59) for the night, while Buffalo managed to shoot 43.3% from the field (26-of-60). Marshall was led in scoring by Ron Blackshear's 25 points and 10 rebounds. Latece Williams' 10 points and 16 rebounds deserve note, as well as Tamar Slay's 10 points and VanHoose's 11.
With the loss, Marshall drops to a precarious 8-8 overall, 3-4 in the MAC. Buffalo improved to 9-8 overall, 4-3 in the MAC. Marshall next faces in-state rival WVU in Charleston, WV on January 23.
"Right now is a low point," Latece Williams summed up. "Basketball is up and down. There are times when you're up and times when you're down."