By Budd Bailey
It figured to be a memorable night for new University at Buffalo basketball coach George Halcovage.
He had spent 15 years working his way up the ladder in the basketball program at Villanova, starting as a graduate assistant in 2008. But now Halcovage has his own team, his own program.
He said he kept his emotions under control, perhaps because he had something of a dress rehearsal.
“The Daemen game (an exhibition on Oct. 23) really helped established us being out there together,” Halcoverage said. “We looked at it as a game. I think I’m very grateful to be in this position. I thought our fans were great tonight. Just to be in this environment was awesome.”
Certainly the new bench boss’s thoughts about Game One included a victory. However, Fairleigh Dickenson proved to be a obstacle in the way. The Knights were the better team for much of the night, and came away with a 92-86 win over the Bulls at Alumni Arena Monday night.
“You don’t really know what you have sometimes,” Halcovage said after seeing his team play a game that counted for the first time. “With the crew that we did have, we know what we had and we thought we’d give them their best show. We learned that we need to be more solid. … Also we have to take care of the ball. They had 18 points off 13 turnovers, and that was the difference in the game.”
“We know we’ve got work to do,” added UB forward Isaiah Adams, who had 28 points to lead all scorers. “We came in the mindset that we need to do what we do, but we didn’t set the tone from the jump. That’s something we’ve been talking about as a team. We have to go back and work on that.”
FDU only trailed for 35 seconds in the contest, with those coming less than five minutes into the first half. The Knights showed some poise in maintaining that margin, even as Buffalo spurted every so often and even tied the game in the second half a couple of times. But the Bulls did never get over the hump in the second half to the point where they actually led.
If the name Fairleigh Dickinson sounds a little familiar, it should. The Knights were the America’s Sweetheart in the NCAA tournament last season. As a No. 16, they shocked No. 1 seed Purdue and then advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Some of that team has moved on, including the coach. But parts of it remain, as do the memories. The story can only help FDU this season.
“I was with Villanova, with a lot of guys who had big-time experience in a lot of environments,” Halcovage said. “When you go into a season with a team like that, you feel like you’re already prepared to do what you did before. They’ve got veteran experience back – guys who have a lot of experience playing together at a high level. Sure, it helps. … They were in a close game against Purdue, and they found a way to get it done. Even against (Florida Atlantic), they battled to the very end of that game (before losing). Our hope is that with this program is that we want to be at that point. We want to be in those environments.”
The Bulls stay home for their next game on Saturday against South Alabama.
UB passes test from Canisius
The opener of the opening night double-header may not have had the drama of the introduction of a new coach. Still, those first games are always interesting. After all, teams have no basis for comparison – especially at a time when college players switch sides faster than traveling salesmen.
Buffalo women's basketball coach Becky Burke at least took some comfort that her team was coming into the game and the season with some positives that she knew she’d see from the opening tip.
“I haven’t had so many new players at once before. It’s a different feeling with this team,” she said. “They play so hard and practice so hard every day. So there aren’t any unknowns. I know they are going to play extremely hard, and I know they care about winning. That’s half the battle at that level. That’s a new feeling in a good way.”
The opener against Canisius University (it’s going to take a long time to get used to that) was pretty typical in that sense. It had its sloppy periods, especially at the start when the teams were a combined 1 for 15 from the field. But a win is a win, and the Bulls moved to 1-0 with a 69-60 victory over the Golden Griffins.
Canisius certainly gave UB a battle. In fact, the Griffins settled in nicely after a slow start and led by 10 points (44-34) with four minutes gone in the second half. That included a nice burst at the start to take control for a short span.
“The third quarter started extremely well and confident,” Golden Griffins coach Sahar Nusselbeh said. “We played with tempo, and that starts with defensive purpose. … (But then) our inability to get stops stagnated our offensive play as well.”
The Bulls get some of the credit for that, and had the lead by the beginning of the fourth quarter.. They rarely look back from that.
“It takes dogs to come back and we’ve got some dogs,” said Buffalo guard Kirsten Lewis-Williams, who had 16 points. “I took it personal. We came out and got stops. That led on offense to scores.”
Chellia Watson led UB with 21 points. Mackenzie Anralia scored 16 points for Canisius.
The Bulls go to Old Dominion on Saturday; the Griffins host St. Francis (Pa.) on that date as well.
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