by Bob Gaughan, Buffalo Sports Page
I remember thinking back to a game I broadcast in college. It was the late 1980’s. Buffalo State was a power. The Bengals behind the likes of Conrad Walters were beating UB in a packed Houston Gym on the Buffalo State campus. That was about 30 years ago. If you were to tell me how far this UB program would come in 30 years I would tell you it was impossible.
I thought about that night Friday night as the UB Bulls were enjoying their Senior Night activities. The Bulls had just beaten Bowling Green 84-73 to improve to 28-3 on the season. The most wins they have ever had as a Division I program. Their 16 MAC wins were the most they have had in MAC play too. And so much is still ahead for this team and this program. The biggest crowd ever in Alumni arena history (6,704) had watched the Bulls finish off a historic season. Many people might have thought this night was never possible.
When UB became Division 1 in the 1990’s most Buffalo fans would have never imagined a day that this team would grab the imaginations and hearts of the Buffalo fan base. But Friday night you could hear the roar of the crowd from all around the packed arena. These weren’t just students and alumni. These were Bills and Sabres fans, local hard working fans that had no immediate ties to the team or university other than enjoying a hard working successful franchise.
That’s what this team has become since their first NCAA appearance in 2015. A very successful local franchise. This is the first year that the Bulls won’t have to win the MAC tournament to make it to the NCAA’s big dance. This team is already in. The Bulls entered the night 19th in the country. They’ve been a fixture as a top 25 team all season long. Who could have imagined that 30 years ago? The UB Bulls all season long as one of the top 25 Division 1 teams in the country.
This Senior class will be making their third appearance in the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in Cleveland in the MAC tournament. Oh how far they have come.
The Bulls honored Rasaun Young at halftime. Young was Buffalo’s leading scorer with 1,908 points from 1993-1998. He has since been passed by Javon McCrea and Friday night by senior CJ Massinburg. Someday Massinburg’s jersey will be in the rafters. His story is one of legend. Barely recruited out of Dallas. The Bulls were lucky to get their greatest player ever. The Bulls had an extra scholarship and Massinburg had few choices. Massinburg leads by example. Teams take on the personality of their best player. This team is taking on Massinburg’s unselfishness, hard-working personality. One of the reasons they are so successful.
Nick Perkins led the Bulls over Bowling Green with 22 points. Perkins too will someday have his jersey raised to the rafters. Perkins showed all aspects of his game in the victory. He has the ability to hit the three, which is so important for a big man in today’s basketball. Perkins has a nice mid-range game and when the Bulls need a good possession posting up Perkins is always one of their best options.
Jeremy Harris may have the greatest potential of all the seniors. He is a tough match-up for any team. Long, sleek and his ability to hit the three and drive to the basket makes him so tough. The Bulls call him Mr. March after his performance last year in the MAC and NCAA tournament. Deandre Ayton maybe the first player picked in the NBA draft last year but he still has nightmares of how Harris owned him in the Bulls victory over Arizona last year in the NCAA tournament.
The Darryl Talley of this team maybe Dontay Caruthers. Caruthers gets this team going emotionally with his defensive intensity. The bulldog look he gets on his face when he makes a big play is one the team feeds off of. Caruthers has always brought defense to the table but this year his speed in getting to the basket and his ability to finish at the hole has made him an offensive threat teams need to be aware of.
Like Caruthers the small improvements that Montell Mcrae has made to his game has set this team above last years great club. McRae shoots 80 percent on two point basket for the year. His ability to hit the three as well has added offensive to a club that scores 86 points a game.
These five seniors scored 65 of the 89 points the Bulls put up in their final game on the Alumni arena floor.
So this senior class and team head off to Cleveland as the regular season MAC champions. They sport a gaudy 28-3 record. But more importantly they go forward with the hearts, dreams and aspirations of the local Buffalo sports community. This team for that reason is special. Not every team can capture the hearts and soles of the local sports community. In fact maybe it’s a first for UB basketball. That’s what makes this team special. Let’s hope the run doesn’t end anytime soon.