By Budd Bailey
This was the type of night that the University of Buffalo was hoping to see when Maceo Jack arrived on campus to play basketball in the fall.
The senior transfer has shown flashes during the course of the year. The 6-foot-5 guard has the strength to score inside, and the shooting range to hit from beyond the arc. But he had averaged less than 10 points per game entering Tuesday night’s contest with Eastern Michigan, and he was in double figures in only three of his last 11 games.
That made the game with the Eagles something of a coming-out party. He scored a season-high 22 points as the Bulls (12-8, 6-4 MAC) clobbered the Eagles, 102-64. When Jack plays like that, he’s an added offensive threat and makes the team’s attack that much more dynamic.
“He keeps getting better,” coach Jim Whitesell said. “His defense has been very good all year. Sometimes he wasn’t shooting the ball the way he can, but for us it’s more about the intangibles that we really miss. … I’m happy to see him offensively play like he can, and his maturity is a 10 out of 10.”
Jack, one of three mother/son combinations in Division I college basketball (Mom is UB women’s coach Felisha Legette-Jack), started with a dunk in the early going. Then came a rebound follow, another dunk, a drive, and two free throws. Obviously, Jack was concentrating on getting to the basket.
Having established that part of his game, the senior hit a three-pointer at the end of the first half – and added two more from long distance in the opening minutes of the second half. Maceo finished with one last dunk to reach 22 points.
“I didn’t do it consciously, but going in there and being aggressively really helped my three-point game open up,” Jack said about the inside-outside flow. “Things just started going my way.”
That’s not to say Jack was the only UB player who had a good night on offense. Almost everyone else did it. To prove that point, a student came out of the stands to take a half-court shot – and sank it to earn a $1,000 gift card. The Bulls shot 57.3 percent from the field, and 45.5 (10 for 22) on threes.
Jeenathan Williams got UB going by scoring six of the team’s first 10 points. Then David Skogman scored three straight baskets to put the Bulls up, 20-13. About 90 seconds later, Buffalo was up by 10 (31-21), and there was very little doubt about the outcome from there.
“The coaching team does a good job of getting us ready,” Skogman said. “It’s something the coach preaches is rebounding. That helped us tonight.”
Williams, a constant on the offense all season, put up 16 points on 7 of 12 shooting. Skogman put up a perfect game of sorts, going 6 for 6 from the field (including a three-pointer), and 2 for 2 from the line for 15 points. Josh Mballa had 13 points (6 for 8), showing some nifty moves around the basket. Ronaldo Segu was the only starter to suffer a bad night in shooting (3 of 13) but he did have nine assists of UB’s total of 28.
“Good things happen when you move the ball,” Whitesell said. “We’re not relying on one guy. … But that starts with good defense. These should be our strengths. It was a good win tonight.”
Even LaQuill Hardnett – rounded back into form after missing three weeks in January – came off the bench to drill six of eight shots. He finished with 12 points in 10:22 of play. It was that sort of night.
“It was awesome seeing Q be out there. He’s been banged up,” Skogman said. “He was really good.”
Naturally, nothing helps those shooting percentages like having a number of odd-man fast breaks. The Bulls outscored EMU (8-15, 3-9 MAC), 26-6 in such situations on Tuesday.
“It starts with our defense,” Jack said. “We’re looking in on the defensive end, and rebounding. That gets our transition game going. I think we did a great job of that tonight.”
It was the second straight win for the Bulls, having dusted off Central Michigan on Saturday. That’s a strong comeback after one-sided losses to the two best teams in the Mid-American Conference, Toledo and Ohio. Obviously, the competition hasn’t been as good in the past few days as it was in the games before. Still, UB got the job done.
“We’ve got an older group, and experienced group,” Whitesell said. “We talked about we got beat by Ohio. We were like, ‘Look, you’ve got to own it. We’ve got to be humble. We have to go back and work harder. Let’s roll the tape and get there.’ Those guys understood that we weren’t going to be feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to continue to try to get better. After we got humbled, our practices were very good.”
A bigger test arrives in Alumni Arena on Saturday afternoon, when Ball State comes to town. If Buffalo has aspirations of acquiring a good seed in the postseason tournament, it needs to win games like that one.
“Ball State comes in playing great basketball,” Whitesell said. “We had a heck of a game down there with them (a 74-68 win on Jan. 14.)”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)