By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Fans who entered the front door of Alumni Arena on Friday night for a college basketball game were greeted by a most unusual sight.
“Who needs tickets!?” he yelled out in front of the string of doors.
It’s certainly possible that ticket brokers have popped up at some point in the history of local college sports over the years, perhaps dating way back to the fabled double-header days at Memorial Auditorium in the 1940s. Still, it was a shock to see it, just as it was to again see only standing room tickets available a little less than an hour before gametime.
In other words, strike this from my list of sentences I thought I’d never write: “The game was played before the usual sellout crowd at Alumni Arena.”
For the record, the University of Buffalo picked up another win on Friday. The Bulls improved to 17-1 win with a 77-65 win over Eastern Michigan. UB seems in no danger of dropping out of its No. 16 spot in the national rankings when the polls are updated on Monday. It would be the 11th straight week that the team would be in the top 25; that would tie the Mid-American Conference record set by Bowling Green in 1961-62. (That BG team had future NBA players Nate Thurmond and Howard Komives.)
It’s still odd to see 6,193 jammed into the Amherst facility, particularly when the students are still on their holiday break. The ticket managers must be doing some serious head-scratching as they try to figure out how to get a couple of thousand students into a jammed building once they return in a couple of weeks.
The entertainment business
The expectations for those fans have changed too. A 17-1 team is expected to win, of course, so just putting up a W on most nights might not be completely satisfying. A little entertainment value is expected to go with it.
“It’s great for the kids,” UB coach Nate Oats said about those expectations. “They deserve it, and they welcome it. We talk about the three H’s a lot – be healthy, be hungry, and be humble. We’ve added another H – stay happy … There’s pressure, but it’s good pressure. It’s better than not having it.”
Fortunately, the Bulls are up to the task most of the time. This senior-laden squad provides plenty of excitement. UB frequently makes the extra pass that results in an open look at the basket or a lay-up. They also run whenever they get the chance, which is always a popular approach. It’s an athletic team, so sometimes it seems as if anyone can play at any position.
Still, a couple of players tend to lead the way when needed. CJ Massinburg has been the team’s floor leader during his time here. The guard has the knack of getting the ball to the right place, which at certain times he’s the one taking the shot. Meanwhile, Nick Perkins is a dependable inside threat. Not too many sixth men (as in first man off the bench) have that role or that sort of power, but Perkins usually has a good chance of scoring from close range when the rest of the squad is going through a bit of a dry spell in shooting.
Those two were certainly the biggest difference in a game that saw the Bulls have trouble putting Eastern Michigan away. The Eagles started the game as if they didn’t belong in the same conference, falling behind by a 12-2 count after almost six minutes. it would have been worse with some better UB shooting. But EMU got the lead down to 19-18, establishing an accordion-like pattern. Buffalo jumped up by 12, 41-29, at halftime, and got the lead to 13 at 54-41. Before anyone knew it, Eastern Michigan had cut the lead to 58-56 with 8:42 left. It was still only a three-point game at 60-57 a minute later.
“We really need to stay aggressive,” Perkins said about UB’s problems in putting away the game. “We have to get comfortable with a lead. The guys weren’t cutting hard at times.”
Then Massinburg took over. He scored two free throws, made a driving lay-up, and hit a pair of three-pointers. Add a follow by Perkins and a three-point play by Dontay Caruthers, and a 15-0 run over the course of 3 minutes, 20 seconds had put this one away. It was a vintage performance by Massinburg, who had been struggling a bit lately.
“I just had to relax, and take the pressure off myself,” he said. “I needed to realize that basketball is a game you should enjoy.”
Massinburg finished with 31 points, while Perkins had 21 points to go with six rebounds.
“The only team that can beat them (UB) is someone who can outlast them,” EMU coach Rob Murphy said. “You have to play 40 minutes, and we played about 28. We never could get the lead. We said, let’s see how they respond when they are playing from behind. But we couldn’t do it.”
The Bulls play in two straight road games next, starting with a trip to Northern Illinois on Tuesday. They return home in search of their 20th straight win at home on Jan. 29 against Ball State. You might want to get your tickets early. Because if you don’t, that scalper might be waiting.
“The fans have been waiting for a good team for years, maybe back to the days when the Aud would be packed,” Oats said. “Now we’re in the top 25, and they can come out and see a good team.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)