Time to Hoop It Up: Big Four Men’s Preview
by Amy Audibert, Buffalo Sports Page Basketball Expert
College basketball fans around the nation – myself included- tuned into a fantastic double header this past Tuesday night. The State Farm Champions Classic, held in Chicago, featured No. 1 Duke edging past No.2 Michigan State 88-81 followed up by No.4 Kansas outlasting No.7 Kentucky 65-61. It was everything us hoop junkies could ask for to get this season rolling.
However, last weekend, up here in Western New York, there was another couple of games that went down, both close finishes and both showing a lot of potentially superb future match-ups:
“It’s the Big 4 Baby” (insert Dickie V voice)
Bona vs. Niagara
The first game of the weekend tipped in Olean, where Niagara U Head Coach Chris Casey & Co hit the road and were able to escape with a hard fought 77-75 win over St. Bonaventure. The packed Reilly Center saw 40 minutes of a ball game that featured 3 ties, 9 lead changes and essentially ended on a freaky turnover where Bona guard Kaputo lost his shoe in transition; you can sign me up for that any day.
A glaring stat going into this one was that the Bonnies were 48-2 for home openers at the Reilly Center; that is tradition, that is pride. Big credit has to be given to the sharp shooting hand of NU redshirt senior guard Kahlil Dukes who went 6-8 from behind the arc, finished with a team high 23 points and most important, helped regulate that stat- even just a bit, 48-3.
We won’t beat around the bush here, the Bonnies show a MUCH different team had Jaylen Adams played in this game. Adams, a senior guard who was recently named to the Oscar Robertson Award Watch List suffered what has been released as an ankle injury in an early November scrimmage. I have to give a lot of credit to Head Coach Mark Schmidt and his staff at Saint Bonaventure who decided not to play Adams with their sights set on both a fantastic Atlantic 10 season leading to very realistic hopes in a post season appearance.
Unfortunately for the Bona crowd, it was a combination of both the Adams absence along with a further developed and experienced Niagara squad that gave the Purple Eagles this early W.
UB vs. Canisius
Now let’s fastforward about 22 hours from the NU victory and relocate to Alumni Arena in Amherst, NY. Approximently 10 miles separate the two campuses of Canisius College to The University at Buffalo. In retrospect that’s enough for maybe 3 pregame pump up songs at most.. this is not the trip I would hope DJ duties to be mine….good thing there was a lot more at stake in this cross town rivalry.
At the final buzzer of this forty minute grudge match it was the UB Bulls that were on top with a 80-75 W. Just like the previous night, a highly entertaining game that featured 3 ties and 7 lead changes, plus a couple of chippy moments that saw officials escort players to their timeout huddles; you can consider this rematch already circled my calenander- when and where ever it may be 🙂
Buffalo defended their court in typical fashion; allowing the home crowd to get behind them in heated moments while encouraging everyone to their feet through the hustle plays of unsung heroes. This particular night – and I would confidently predict throughout the season- that title could given to sophomore Davonta Jordan. The (generously given) 6-2 guard came off the bench for 27 mins highlighted by 16 points and 8 boards. A pretty solid stat line no doubt, but it is the energy in which he plays with that will encourage and uptempo game. Nate Oats and staff are dynamic recruiters, which was confirmed yet again thought the likes of the newest bulls on full display for their home opener. JUCO transfers Jeremey Harris and Montell McRae are both going to be a big components if the Bulls live up to their preseason prediction of being ranked #1 in the Mid American Conference East Division. Both news faces are long lanky bodies who compliment the solid veteran presence of Nick Perkins and Cj Massinburg.
This game was exciting and close from start to end; that was because Buffalo native, and second year Canisius Head Coach Reggie Witherspoon has been working very hard up on Main Street. Not only did he clearly have his guys ready for the atmosphere they would be playing in, but has done a tremendous job assembling pieces for this puzzle that will no doubt surprise a lot of people when it comes time for MAAC play. Takal Molson was arguably the best player on the court. The 6-5 guard from Bcoming out of the TAAG Academy in Florida was simply everywhere. He finished off his college debut with 25 points in 34 minutes, going 9-13 from the field including 3-5 from the 3. He did not force anything or try to win the game alone- quite simply, the true freshman let the game come to him and for us who love the sport- it was beautiful. Although it’s of course very early, if Molson can keep that performance somewhat consistent, his name should be in the talks for conference Rookie of the Year.
As the men’s Big4 matchups concluded last weekend, all I could think to myself was “ wow, us bleacher creatures up here in WNY sure are lucky”. After that ridiculous doubleheader that the entire country saw just a few night ago, I thought the same thing. If you share the same passion and enthusiasm for college hoops that I do- then we have so many games and options that we can jump into. Although each of the Big4 teams has it’s own strengths and weakness’ and will all write a separate story as this season progresses, one thing I found very consistent was the intensity put out on the court from each team- and those are the programs I enjoy being around. Wether your allegiances lie with NU, Bona, UB, Canisius or neither – it really doesn’t matter; you can’t go wrong- just get to a gym!