The Buffalo Bulls were every bit the competitor that the experts believed they would be, but in the end, the talent of the West Virginia Mountaineers prevailed in a hard-fought 68-62 NCAA Tournament win.
The way the game started, the 5th-seeded Mountaineers appeared that they were going to have their way with the Mid-American Conference Tournament champions. West Virginia (24-9) shot out to a 20-7 advantage eight and a half minutes into the NCAA Midwest Region game, played in Columbus, Ohio.
The Bulls finally came to life about mid-way through the first half, and slowly began chipping away at the West Virginia lead, narrowing the score to 29-26 on a pair of free throws by Buffalo’s Justin Moss with 4:25 left in the first half.Mar 20, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers guard Juwan Staten (3) goes up for a shot against the Buffalo Bulls during the second half in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
The Mountaineers scored the last seven points before intermission to take a double-digit lead into the locker room at the intermission.
Buffalo, playing in its first ever NCAA Tournament game, came out the locker room to start the second half and scored the first seven points to cut the West Virginia lead to 36-33. From that point to very late in the game, the Mountaineer lead was never any less than five points and no more than 11.
Down the stretch, you could feel this game slowly slipping away from West Virginia. Buffalo’s Xavier Ford completed a three-point play to draw the Bulls within one point of the Mountaineers, at 60-59. West Virginia scored on their next possession to push the lead back out to three points. Then Ford nailed a long three-pointer to tie the score at 62-all with 2:45 remaining in the game.
That was the Bull’s last score of the game. Tarik Phillip of West Virginia put the dagger in the Bull’s heart when he hit a three-point shot falling away from the basket with time winding off on the shot clock and just 28 seconds remaining in the game. The basket by Phillip accounted for three of his nine points coming off the West Virginia bench, but they were undoubtedly the most important points of his college career.
Sophomore Devin Williams, who has been the big man for the Mountaineers in the injury absence of backcourt tandem Juwan Staten and Gary Browne in recent games, was West Virginia’s leading scorer in the game with 17. Staten, who was back in the starting lineup for this game, added 15.
Ford had 16 for head coach Bobby Hurley’s Buffalo squad, and guard Shannon Evans contributed 15.
The West Virginia bench outscored the Buffalo bench 21-10, which was a big difference in the final outcome.
West Virginia moves on to the third round on Sunday, when it will play the winner of No. 4 Maryland-vs. Valparaiso.