By Budd Bailey
Like your college basketball to have plenty of drama? Close finishes? Individual accomplishments?
Alumni Arena was not your kind of place on Saturday afternoon. And that’s not the worst thing in the world, at least from the perspective of the University at Buffalo’s men’s team.
The Bulls were in good form in defeating Northern Illinois, 80-62. There were no complaints from UB about winning a conference game in somewhat ho-hum fashion. Buffalo jumped out to a 16-5 lead after five minutes of play, and the lead rarely got below 10 points the rest of the way.
“I thought our guys did a really good job,” coach Jim Whitesell said. “I thought they were prepared defensively. They got our team defense together. We’re still kind of a work in progress on the offensive end. We rebounded the ball well for about 32 minutes. We had 17 assists. Those were the two things that stood out in terms of team things.”
It doesn’t take much study of the postgame box score to figure out what sort of day it was for the Bulls. The scoring was extremely well distributed. Curtis Jones had 19 points, including a 5-for-10 day on three-pointers, to lead UB. Armoni Foster had 14 points, Isaac Jack added 13, and Isaiah Adams scored 11. Meanwhile, LaQuill Hardnett had nine points and 12 rebounds.
You have that sort of balance, and you don’t have to worry about any of the starters investigating the transfer portal because they aren’t getting the ball enough.
“It means we’re sharing the ball, we’re making the right play. That’s really important,” Whitesell said. “We’ve got a quite a few kids that can score. If they take good shots, they have that freedom. The big thing is, are we getting rid of the ball on our reads really quick? That’s what we want to do. Make the read, get rid of it if you don’t have a play.”
Jones’ play continues to be an important part of the Bulls’ offense. He emerged early in the season as the team’s top scorer, and he has continued to do that game after game. There are no secrets in college basketball, and certainly Curtis is receiving more attention from opposing defenses.
“Yeah, it’s feeling that way, but I’m still trying to let the game come to me,” Jones said. “Obviously my shots still come. I’m still taking good shots, and I’m trying to take advantage of where the defense will be in transition.”
On the other hand, Jack’s play on Saturday was a nice surprise. He had 13 points and six rebounds in almost 27 minutes on the floor. That’s a big step up from his play on Tuesday, where he looked like a slightly awkward 6-foot-11 freshman. (And aren’t they all at that age?) The guy who played on Saturday afternoon can be a contributor.
“I think he’s getting better and better,” Whitesell said. “He works really hard. He has a very good work ethic. He’s got a lot to learn, but his motor and his attitude are good every day. When you do that, it’s like you’re going into a classroom – you’ll be a better learner every day. I’m really happy with his progression.”
More good news for the Bulls – Zid Powell was back on the court. He had been out since a December 18 game against West Virginia. Powell chipped in with nine points in 18 minutes. It’s always nice to add someone to the team’s rotation of prime-time players.
“Getting Powell back helps our depth,” Whitesell said. “We can move Isaiah between the 3 and the 4. Kidtrell Blocker keeps getting better and better too. He’s giving us valuable minutes. He made a big three today, and he gives us good pace. Our bench is growing, and that’s good.”
For Northern Illinois, the good news is that the team gets to go home. The Huskies played their last home game on December 20. Before that, NIU was home on November 14. That’s close to one home game in almost two months. That’s great for frequent flyer miles, but not so good for earning victories.
“Their schedule is really, really tough,” Whitesell said. “We talked to our guys about this. I liked our approach. Our schedule is ranked 30th in the country, and they are 80th. They’ve played Gonzaga, and played all over the country. They went and beat Indiana State, which is leading the Missouri Valley Conference. They had eight road games in a row. They’ll get better and better, because they’ve played such a tough schedule.”
Mercifully, Northern Illinois heads home for a game on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, UB takes to the road for a pair of conference road games – Tuesday against Bowling Green and Saturday versus Central Michigan.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)
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