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Team Profile: Buffalo at Vermont Recap

by David Mihm | February 21st, 2009

Vermont 78, Buffalo 70

The visiting Bulls could do no wrong on offense during the game’s first eight minutes.  Normally-raucous Patrick Gymnasium sounded more like Patrick Library, as the Bulls’ offensive prowess and disruptive defense declawed the Catamounts on both ends of the floor and silenced the crowd early in the game.

Senior PG Mike Trimboli, Vermont’s all-time fourth-leading scorer, couldn’t get the home team going, hounded by UB’s guards. Commentator Bob Valvano counted out 17 dribbles on one possession before Trimboli could even execute a simple pass to a teammate, so impenetrable was the Bulls’ D.

Rider transfer Rodney Pierce, a Buffalo native, impressed with his outside shooting ability and his calm yet intense floor demeanor in a hostile environment, scoring 11 points in the first 10 minutes of the game and leading the Bulls to a 13-point advantage.

Four thundering first-half blocks by Marqus Blakely brought the crowd to its feet, though, in the later stages of the first half.  Blakely followed the first with a slick no-look pass to big man Colin McIntosh for an easy fast-break layup +1, keying the Cats’ turnaround.

Inspired by Blakely’s defensive prowess, the entire Vermont team got more aggressive on both sides of the ball, in particular on the defensive perimeter and on the offensive glass. All of a sudden Buffalo’s open shots weren’t so open, and the Catamounts were quicker to loose balls.

Despite a banked 25-footer by Pierce at the halftime buzzer, momentum did not switch in the Bulls’ favor after the intermission.  

Blakely continued to operate down low, and when the Bulls double-teamed he made crisp passes to the perimeter, where more often than not, an open Catamount shooter nailed a three.  More often than not it was the aforementioned Trimboli.

On the opposite end of the floor, Vermont did a much better job at creating congestion in the lane, and Buffalo’s lack of spacing meant fewer open looks. There weren’t any open shooters, and despite a tenacious effort by 6’9″ Russian Vadim Fedotov, the Bulls as a team were out-toughed on the glass by Blakely, McIntosh, and reserve Evan Fjeld.

An ill-timed technical foul on Buffalo coach with less than three minutes remaining seemingly doomed any chance of a Bulls comeback, but it inspired his team to pick up their intensity.  A bank shot with 1:14 remaining by Pierce, who had performed a disappearing act for virtually the entire second half, brought Buffalo to within six points and the subsequent inbounds play forced Vermont to burn its final timeout.

The Catamounts struggled with Buffalo’s full-court pressure, turning the ball over twice in the final minute-plus–perhaps Witherspoon should have employed the press with more time remaining.  But in the end the home team escaped with a hard-earned victory.

Tournament Implications

Buffalo Bulls
Buffalo’s defensive discipline and ball movement on offense truly impressed in the first half.  There’s a reason the Bulls nearly defeated UConn in their highest-profile nonconference game.  Once Vermont’s pressure picked up, though, the Bulls wilted.  Their depth is impressive (11 players recorded at least two points in the game) but Pierce struck me as their only legitimate scoring threat.  They do have size inside but no real floor general.

UB has no chance at an at-large bid, but should they match up with a team on the #3 or #4 line that likes to run, they could pose problems with their lock-down defensive pressure and grind-it-out style.

Vermont Catamounts
Marqus Blakely is a mid-major force of nature, and Mike Trimboli is the second-coming of T.J. Sorrentine (and might even be a little tougher than his more famous predecessor).  In Mike Lonergan, they have an experienced coach and there’s something about this team that suggests the X-factor of Tom Brennan’s charisma is alive and well.  Though they don’t control their own destiny in the America East (Binghamton has the inside line to the conference’s #1 seed, thanks to a season sweep), Vermont could pose real problems for a favored team in the NCAA’s despite being undersized.  A 13 or 14 seed looks likely with an America East Title.

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