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CHRISTMAS CATCH-UP, PART 3: UB MEN'S BASKETBALL
PLUS: UB women's hoops finishes December 4-1, starts MAC play Tuesday
EDITOR’S NOTE: I am sure many of you, like me, watched what just happened to Damar Hamlin in the Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game. I don’t know if you could call me religious but I am a believer and I’m praying for him. God bless Damar and his family at this terrible time. - Ben
UPDATE: Junior guard Zid Powell, as per Twitter1, is out for tonight’s Mid-American Conference home opener against Ohio.
Down, Then Up, Then Down Again: UB’s Still Figuring It Out
Image from ubbulls.com
With everything else happening in Western New York lately—particularly the horrific winter storm that’s killed dozens of people—it’s understandable if the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team has fallen off the radar for many. We are being reminded, unfortunately, just how unimportant any game can be in the grand scheme of things.
As for the Bulls (6-7)—the hoops news that’s trickled in has been mixed.
Yes, UB was technically 3-3 in December. Those wins, however, came against St. Bonaventure (#178 in the NCAA NET rankings, which is fine, but well below a typical Bonnies squad) and Division 3 opponents St. John Fisher and SUNY Canton—the latter officially counting as an exhibition.
The losses included a 25-point dismantling by Tulane (#137 in NCAA NET), an 18-point stumble at then-#24 West Virginia that was actually quite close until the final 10 minutes, and, most recently, a 21-point road defeat courtesy of always-formidable Michigan State.
Where does this leave UB with Mid-American Conference play beginning Tuesday at 7 p.m. at home against Ohio (ESPN+)?
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Buffalo’s 2022-23 season reached an early nadir in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Bulls dropped a 63-59 decision to a struggling Howard squad on Nov. 19 (currently #304 in NCAA NET, despite winning three of its last four).
It was an ugly mess of a Paradise Jam contest. The teams combined to connect on fewer than four of every 10 field goal attempts, miss 31 of 44 threes, shoot 65 percent from the free throw line, and turn the ball over 31 times. Playing an afternoon game after a night off on St. Thomas must have affected some sleeping patterns.
Image from ubbulls.com
This sobering defeat spurred UB to an 82-74 win over a good George Mason team on Nov. 21, Buffalo’s final day on the island. The Patriots, 103rd in NCAA NET, would later beat the Bulls’ MAC rival Toledo, 80-73, on Dec. 3 at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia and Tulane, 62-56, at the Legends of Basketball Showcase in Chicago on Dec. 17. Mason’s expected to challenge for the Atlantic 10 title this season.
The dynamic duo of (junior swingman) Isaiah Adams and (sophomore guard) Curtis Jones propelled the Bulls to victory. Adams had a career game for the Bulls as he scored a career-high 24 points in the contest and added four rebounds. He finished 8-of-14 from the floor, while also making three three-pointers. Jones continued where he left off on Saturday as he finished with 22 points. Adams and Jones combined to make all six three-pointers in the game. (Junior guard) Zid Powell finished in double figures, scoring 11. This is the first time since Feb. 2, 2022 that two players scored 20 or more points in a game for the Bulls.
Image from ubbulls.com
UB stayed hot, knocking off rivals Canisius and St. Bonaventure on consecutive weekends, winning each game comfortably. After the depressing loss to Howard two weeks’ prior, Head Coach Jim Whitesell’s bunch was suddenly back on top of the Western New York basketball scene:
In the (Bonnies) win, sophomore guard Curtis Jones finished with a career-high 32 points with Zid Powell adding 23 points. Powell was perfect on his 12 free throw attempts. Buffalo finished 18-for-21 (.857) from the charity stripe. Jones finished 13-of-22 (.590) from the floor while drilling 5-of-10 from beyond the arc. Jones had five of the Bull's seven three-pointers on the day.
Jonnivius Smith had several monstrous dunks. Smith tied his career-high 10 points adding six rebounds in the victory. Isaiah Adams nearly had a double-double, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Buffalo has now had at least one 20-point scorer in the last five games with C. Jones finishing with 20 or more in four straight.
"Collectively, our guys really locked in and had a good week of practice, I think that was really important in terms of improvement," stated Whitesell. "Zid Powell really struggled in the first half, but we use the term 'stay with it' a lot, and he was the epitome of it, he didn't get over emotional he just came back in when it was his turn in the second half and played outstanding."
Long December, and a Reason to Believe?
Image from ubbulls.com
So here we go, right? A team with nine new players and zero returning starters from 2021-22 was starting to gel, and it would be an upward trajectory from here.
As expected, Buffalo trounced D3 St. John Fisher, 91-53, on Dec. 6 at Alumni Arena, preparing the Bulls for a relatively high-profile performance (albeit one that would not be on television) as the opening act at Holiday Hoopsgiving on Dec. 10 in Atlanta vs. Tulane.
Image from tulanegreenwave.com
It was a major disappointment. UB shot 31 percent from the field and committed 16 turnovers, falling behind by as many as 17 points in the first half and a whopping 34 in the second before a late run resulted in the more respectable 88-63 final.
After letting an eight-point lead slip away in its most recent game, Green Wave coach Ron Hunter wanted to see more consistent play from his team for longer stretches.
Tulane responded with a full performance against Buffalo on Saturday morning in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event in State Farm Arena, putting two good halves together in an 88-63 blowout of the Bulls.
Jalen Cook was among those who remembered the gut-wrenching 95-90 home loss to Fordham last Saturday. He scored a game-high 21 points with eight assists to lead the way in the Green Wave’s bounce-back win.
Tulane (6-3) ran off to a 46-29 halftime lead, then continued pouring it on in the second half to easily take down Buffalo (5-5).
The Green Wave built its largest lead of the game, an 86-50 advantage, with 3:20 left and coasted home to help erase any lingering thoughts from the Fordham loss.
Tulane’s defense (held) Buffalo to just six field goals in 28 attempts until the Bulls made their last four shots of the lopsided contest. They shot 31.1% for the game.
Five Green Wave players scored in double figures, while Buffalo’s previously-hot tandem of Jones and Powell combined to shoot five-for-22 from the field.
Righting the Ship, Sort Of
A week later, the Bulls found themselves down by one point with under 12 minutes to play against a top-25 team. UB stood in the middle of the ring and went blow-for-blow with a solid West Virginia outfit in Morgantown, deftly playing role of the spoilers in a sea of Mountaineer yellow.
Then came the T. The refs remain undefeated, especially when you’re in Bob Huggins’ house.
With WVU (9-2) ahead 61-60, the Bulls’ Jonnivius Smith was whistled for a foul as (Tre) Mitchell attempted a shot. Smith was assessed a technical foul for disagreeing with the call and Mitchell made 4-of-4 free throws at the 11:18 mark to up his team’s lead to five.
Mitchell made two jump shots to score the game’s next four points, leaving the Mountaineers with a 69-60 advantage with 8:37 remaining.
“I’m going to give credit to Huggs (WVU Coach Bob Huggins) on that one, because he allowed me to shoot the technical free throws,” Mitchell said. “He let me see the ball go through the basket and it gave me confidence. At 61-60, those were huge free throws. There’s days where we go 50 and 55 in a row without missing one, so what is four?”
Although Buffalo (5-6) got a 3-pointer from Curtis Jones to trail by six, Seth Wilson answered with a triple of his own. Kedrian Johnson then made 1-of-2 free throws and the Mountaineers remained ahead by double digits over the final 7:08 thanks in large part to an offensive outbreak from Jimmy Bell.
Bell scored 17 of his 18 points in the second half, including 12 over the final 6 minutes. Bell had two conventional three-point plays down the stretch, the first of which left the Mountaineers with a 77-63 lead. Bell’s other one came with 3:22 left and made it 90-69, giving WVU its biggest advantage of the game.
In addition to his career-high scoring output, Bell led all players with 10 rebounds.
(Isaiah) Adams led UB with 20 points. (Curtis) Jones and Isaac Jack scored 13 apiece in defeat.
“It was 61-60 and I thought, ‘We just have to keep hanging in every four minutes,” UB coach Jim Whitesell said. “The technical foul really hurt us. It was a lack of discipline. Then we just never got back into the game there at all. They just kind of kept us at bay.”
Image from wvmetronews.com
While UB ultimately lost to the Mountaineers, 96-78, the team never seemed overmatched. Adams had his best game as a Bull and logged a heavy 38 minutes. Jones handed out four assists and dished out four assists in just 22 minutes. Jack (pictured above)—a 6’11 freshman center from the Canadian Pacific Northwest via a Fort Erie, Ontario prep school—grabbed five boards and was three-for-three from the free throw line in the hostile environment.
A Letdown in the Mitten State
Image from statenews.com
After dismissing SUNY Canton by 67 points at home in what was really an extended scrimmage, Buffalo had its final shot at sending a non-conference message—a visit to face Michigan State (NCAA NET #68, received five votes in this week’s AP Top 25) in East Lansing.
The message went undelivered. While the Bulls were game, particularly on defense, shooting woes once again plagued the offense. UB shot 35 percent from the field in the first half, failing to take advantage of the Spartans’ own slow start, and Buffalo was down by 11 at halftime.
MSU topped its previous season high of 86 points, set in its double-overtime win over Kentucky on Nov. 15. Yet despite committing just 10 turnovers and getting 38 bench points while holding Buffalo to just six points in transition, the Spartans "looked real jagged" in their final non-conference test, according to coach Tom Izzo.
"I think we're going to be a better team," Izzo said. "We got to get better quick, though. I look at this and I say, 'We won by 21. What the hell's wrong with you?' And yet I think when I watch the film, I'm going to feel worse rather than better, because I didn't like the little things we did. So we'll get to work on those."
Joey Hauser had 14 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. A.J. Hoggard tied a career high with 10 assists to go with 11 points. Jaden Akins also had 13 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts as the Spartans went 8-for-19 from deep and shot 50.8% overall.
"We missed some open shots tonight. I think that just kind of happens," Hauser said. "It's the first game back from a break, but we had some open shots, though. That's always a good sign of things. We just gotta knock them down. But (the ball) was moving pretty well."
Four players scored in double figures for Buffalo (6-7), which shot 42.4% and outscored MSU in the paint, 44-38. Isaiah Adams scored 15 points, (grad. forward) LaQuill Hardnett had 12 points and seven rebounds, while Curtis Jones and (grad. guard) Armoni Foster combined for 22 points but on just 8-for-34 shooting.
No moral victories here. Did the Bulls have a shot taking down the Spartans? Maybe not—especially without Zid Powell, who was out with injury—but this should’ve been closer.
Easy for me to write that, of course; I’m not the one getting banged around by Hauser and Malik Hall at one of the most unfriendly venues in the Big 10.
Still—disappointing. We wanted to see the UB men meet the moment.
Up Next: Jan. 3 vs. Ohio, 7 p.m. (ESPN+)
Image from ohiobobcats.com
Alright—cleansing breath. All of the non-conference work was simply an appetizer to the MAC main course. Dinner starts on Tuesday night when the Bobcats (8-5, #118 in NCAA NET) visit Alumni Arena to get the league schedule in gear.
OU’s 2021-22 hopes for an NCAA Tournament appearance ended in the second round of the MAC playoffs with a 67-61 loss to Kent State. The Bobcats, who finished the season 25-10 and 14-6 in the conference, accepted an invitation to the CBI and clipped Rice on a buzzer beater before getting bumped by Abilene Christian.
Image from ohiobobcats.com
(Head Coach Jeff) Boals is recharting the course of the Ohio basketball program. With a 23-11 record in conference play over the past two seasons, he has cemented the Bobcats as a perennial frontrunner for years to come.
The Bobcats wave good- bye to three cornerstones from last season: Mark Sears, Ben Vander Plas and Jason Carter. Sears and Vander Plas were both All-MAC First Team selections, while Carter etched his name on the third team.
This offseason, the Bobcats’ frontcourt gets a face lift. The new additions will allow Boals to address a key void in last year’s frontline: physicality. Ohio rebounded the ball exceptionally well on the defensive end last year — that wasn’t their issue. If there was a minor hole in the MAC’s third-best defense, it was the lack of an imposing enforcer.
Dwight Wilson III was supposed to be cast in that role, but an injury put him on the shelf last season. He was a major part of the NCAA Tournament run in 2021, though, averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds on 66.1 percent shooting from inside the arc. He’s now back and rehabilitated, with one collegiate season of eligibility remaining.
Gabe Wiznitzer, a highly anticipated Louisville transfer, will join Wilson in the front court. Boals said Wiznitzer is a different animal, one far too talented for the MAC. Not many 6-11 bigs exist, period, in this conference — much less ones with Wiznitzer’s skill level.
On the perimeter, Boals expects big things out of his two new backcourt toys, Jaylin Hunter and DeVon Baker. Those expectations are inflated by Sears’ stellar play, and Jason Preston before him.
Boals believes veteran guards Miles Brown and Ben Roderick hold the power to make or break this year’s fortunes. As returning full-time starters and multi- year contributors, both carry a rare blend of stability and upside. Though they are older, their innate talent is reason to believe they can hit another gear.
Once again, adversity presents an opportunity. Should the Bulls knock off what looks like a strong Ohio squad to start the season, it’ll be a shot heard ‘round the mid-major world.
We’ve Got Stats
Image from ubbulls.com
Buffalo is currently #198 in NCAA NET, sandwiched between the Big East’s DePaul and Detroit Mercy of the Horizon Conference. The Bulls are second in the MAC in scoring, averaging 78 points per contest, third in field goal percentage (46%), third in assists per game (14.6), second in steals per game (8.9), and fourth in blocks (3.5 per game).
All of which speaks to UB’s preferred style of play: fast. Kenpom.com, which ranks Buffalo #192 in Division 1 hoops, has Buffalo at sixth nationally in adjusted tempo, a statistic that measures possessions and pace. The Bulls are 24th in average possession length—15.7 seconds—on offense, and 17th (16.3 seconds) in defensive possession length.
In other words, UB likes to fire up shots and hunt steals, but allow transition attacks and wide-open looks when they come up empty on either. They’re not a great rebounding team. Buffalo’s opponents are right around the top 100 in terms of three-pointers attempted (they’re open!) and are 23rd in free throws allowed - miss a steal or try to stop a rim run and you’re fouling people.
Curtis Jones is 11th in the conference in points per game at 14.5. He’s also 19th in three-point percentage (37%). Zid Powell (pictured above) is 22nd in scoring, averaging 12.7 per content. LaQuill Hardnett is shooting 54 percent from the field, eighth in the MAC, and is ninth in rebounding with 6.1 board per game. Armoni Foster and Powell are 13th and 14th in assists with 2.9 and 2.8 per game, respectively. Powell (1.9 per game) and Jones (1.6) are among the top 10 in steals.
Image from ubbulls.com
The Bulls aren’t great three-point shooters (10th in the conference at 32 percent), which compounds two particular problems:
Buffalo’s offensive attack is heavily guard-dominated. Powell is 47th in D1 hoops with a possession percentage of 29.8.3 He also takes nearly 27 percent of the Bulls' shots while he is on the court. Jones has a shot percentage of 26 percent, Adams (pictured above) is at 22 percent, and Devin Ceaser—who only averages eight minutes per game—takes over 40 percent of the team's shots once he checks in the game. Those four players, along with Foster, play the most minutes on the team. Only Jones shoots over 33 percent from three; Powell’s shooting under 15 percent. Foster’s shooting under 35 percent from two. When those players aren’t getting to the basket, there’s essentially no offense.
By design or by opportunity, the big men aren’t consistent parts of the attack. Hardnett is a banger and Isaac Jack’s 6’11, and they’ve made a combined 47 of 73 two-point attempts, or 64 percent of those inside shots; Jones and Powell combined have nearly two times as many two-point attempts as the big men. Six-foot-nine Jonnivius Smith has some of the season’s most resounding dunks, but s connects on under 50 percent of his field goal attempts despite rarely taking a shot outside of the restricted area. Kuluel Mading, another 6’9 forward, has averaged over eight points and four rebounds in limited action over three games - heavily weighted towards the D3 opponents - but is very much a work in progress.
Image from ubbulls.com
The good news is there aren’t any more West Virginias or Michigan States left on the schedule—one-off road games against teams with four- and five-star talent who are expected to be in the NCAA tournament. Buffalo will be on steadier ground against opponents it knows a little better, with opportunities to face them in friendlier confines.
This doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing from here:
Ohio, as noted above, is a tough out.
Kent State is ranked #30 in NCAA NET and #64 on Kenpom.com.
Toledo, winners of the past two MAC titles, is 94th on Kenpom.com and 98th in NCAA NET.
Both teams above are on the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25.
Ball State’s 125th in NCAA NET and 162nd on Kenpom.com, have won five in a row, and have four players averaging double-doubles.
Central Michigan, rated #270 in NCAA NET, beat Michigan.
Eastern Michigan boasts three of the MAC’s top 20 scorers, including former five-star recruit Emoni Bates.
In other words, folks, settle in. We have 18 games in the next 60 days to consume, enjoy, and dissect. It’ll be fun.
UB Women’s Hoops Wins 4th in a Row; Open MAC Play Wednesday
Image from ubbulls.com
The wins just keep on coming for Becky Burke’s Bulls—the latest, a nine-point win over St. Bonaventure last Tuesday, gave UB four straight victories to close out non-conference play.
Three Bulls scored in double-figures, led by fifth year guard Zakiyah Winfield who recorded her fourth straight double-double, and seventh of the season, with 21 points and 16 rebounds to go with three assists, two steals and a block. Fellow fifth year Re'Shawna Stone scored 13 points and sophomore Emerita Mashaire recorded a career-high 10 points.
"First, I want to thank our administration, staff, and players for making all the travel arrangements and sacrifices necessary in order for us to be able to play tonight," said head coach Becky Burke. "Secondly, I am just incredibly proud of how much toughness this team continues to show on a nightly basis. We are really starting to form an identity and I'm really excited to see us keep improving. We are trending in the right direction and ready for MAC play."
The Bulls were aggressive from the opening tip as Winfield got a turnaround jumper to drop on UB's first possession before Mashaire and Stone drove to the basket and finished strong through contact to cap a 6-0 run and force an early Bonnies timeout. Buffalo continued to roll as Winfield knocked down a mid-range jumper and then sliced to the basket for two on the next possession before Mashaire drove hard and got the bucket plus the foul to put the Bulls up 14-2 at the 3:47 mark, but the Bonnies used a 5-0 run late in the quarter to cut the UB lead to 18-13 at the end of the first.
The Buffalo offense hit a lull to start the second quarter before Caelan Ellis got a one-dribble pull up to drop to put UB up 21-17 but the Bonnies answered with a triple on the other end. Later, Jazmine Young took it strong to the rim and finished off glass to give the Bulls a 24-20 lead at the media timeout. The Bulls continued to struggle offensively, and the Bonnies took advantage, taking their first lead of the game, 25-24 before Latrice Perkins hit a mid-range jumper to put UB back on top with just under two minutes to play in the half. Young hit a big step-back triple on Buffalo's next possession, but the Bonnies answered with a three of their own and got a layup at the buzzer to take a 30-29 lead at the break.
The Bulls scored on their first possession of the third quarter on a jumper by Winfield and later, Stone scored on back-to-back great drives to the basket to cap a 6-0 UB run and give Buffalo a 35-30 lead and force an SBU timeout at the 7:30 mark. Stone continued to attack as she converted a reverse layup over the front of the rim before the Bonnies answered with a three, their first field goal of the quarter, to cut the lead to four at the six-minute mark. Both offenses hit a lull with prolonged scoring droughts before the Bonnies used a 5-0 run to take a 38-37 lead with 1:33 to go, but Stone hit Winfield in transition for a fastbreak layup and the Bulls got a big defensive stop in the final seconds to take a one-point lead at the end of the third.
Winfield gave the Bulls their first bucket of the fourth quarter on a strong take to the basket off a feed from Stone. After St. Bonaventure tied the game at 41, Winfield stopped and popped on a dime and then Mashaire hit Salmons on the block with a great high-low pass and then drew a big charge on the defensive end at the five-minute mark. The Buffalo offense continued to heat up as Stone drilled a big triple from the wing and then sliced to the basket and finished for two off a great pass from Winfield to put UB up 50-41 and force a SBU timeout at the 4:02 mark. The Bonnies cut it to six points before Kayla Salmons found Mashaire on the block for a layup and then Mashaire hit a big three from the wing to put UB up 56-47 with one minute to go and that was enough for Buffalo to seal the game from the charity stripe.
Up next is a road trip to face MAC rival Kent State (Jan. 4, 7 p.m. at the M.A.C. Center, ESPN+), currently #13 in the CollegeInsider.com Women’s Mid-Major Top 25. The Golden Flashes (8-3) are coming off a heart-pounder against Coppin State, sealing up a 72-69 home victory on a Lindsey Thall three with 40.7 seconds remaining. For more on both UB and KSU, check out our Christmas Catch-Up on the women’s basketball team.
Horns up, everyone! Enjoy the hoops.
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