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  • Budd Bailey

Buffalo outscores Eastern Michigan

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

By Budd Bailey

Every once in a while, an elite college basketball prospect turns up in Western New York. Tuesday night was one of those nights.

Emoni Bates and his Eastern Michigan teammates arrived at Alumni Arena for a game against the University at Buffalo. Bates was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 15, and at one point he was considered the nation’s best recruit. The Ypsilanti, Michigan, native spent last season at Memphis, but it wasn’t a good fit for whatever reason. Bates also had injury problems. So he decided to come home to play in Ypsilanti, the home of Eastern Michigan University.

Bates is considered to be a possible first-round draft choice if he turns pro this summer, and on Tuesday it was easy to see why. The 6-foot-10 standout handles the ball extremely well, and can shoot from long distance. It’s a game that will translate to the NBA very easily, especially if he puts on some weight that will be needed to cope with the schedule and the physical nature of play in the pros.

In the present, though, UB showed that it’s tough for one player – or in Eastern Michigan’s case, three players – to beat a balanced squad. And that’s what the Bulls did on Tuesday, racing to an entertaining 102-97 win over the Eagles before 4,507.

Isaiah Adams of Buffalo obviously was excited about the chance to match up against someone who is likely to get a good look at playing at the sport’s highest level. He didn’t let Bates dominate the game – although the sophomore still had 27 points. Adams had 21 points and eight rebounds to help push the Bulls.

“It’s kind of fun playing against high-level players – people who are the best of the best and get to go against them,” Adams said about the challenge of going up against Bates. “I can thrive in a game that’s at a high level.”

“He’s an outstanding player, but I don’t think our league gets enough credit,” coach Jim Whitesell said. “We’ve had a lot of good players in this league. We have 12 guys playing professionally. He’s special, because you see that length and ability. But we in Buffalo have a lot of guys banging on the door. Every night there’s an outstanding guy coming through the door.”

Adams had lots of help on this night. LaQuill Hardnett had 21 points as well with seven rebounds. Yazid Powell scored 14 points in less than 20 minutes of the bench. Curtis Jones had a rare off-night in shooting but still had 13 points, while Isaac Jack and Jonnivius Smith both scored 12 points. Armoni Foster only had four points, as he was content feeding others for baskets (11 assists).

“He (Foster) made it easy for everyone,” Hardnett said. “He gave everyone easy looks.”

A total of 199 points in a game might cause some coaches to faint, but Whitesell was OK with it. Of course, he won.

“I like it when we have more (than the other team),” he said with a laugh. “Sometime that’s going to happen, especially in February. The kids are playing really well. They’re sharp. They’ve got a lot of guys who have had 25 points per game. Every night, it’s different.”

Hardnett added, “This seemed like a regular game for me – a regular practice. This is what we do. I’m ready to play again.”

On the other side, Bates received plenty of help from Tyson Acuff – or maybe it was the other way around. Acuff had 35 points on 13 of 17 shooting. Noah Farrakhan put in 19 points, so those players had 81 of the Eagles’ 97 points.

It was a close game through the first 26 minutes, as UB led by only 60-58 with 14 minutes to play. Then Buffalo went three-point crazy. Their next six scores each put up three points on the scoreboard; four were three-point shots and two were the old-fashioned two-point plays. When that burst was over, UB was ahead by 78-64, and it was just a matter of staying ahead from there. It was as if everyone got hot together.

“That’s a point of emphasis for our team – we’re just trying to find whoever can make shots,” Adams said. “We’ve got a good team that can shoot the ball and get some buckets. It’s contagious because we all want to see us win. If we see someone making them, there’s a ripple effect.”

The victory added to a somewhat odd streak by the Bulls. They have won 14 straight games during the month of February, including all nine played in 2022 and two this year. That’s the longest such streak in the country. If this keeps up, Whitesell may get the nickname of “Mr. February.”

“Our coach is a very good leader, and it just takes some time for new players to understand where he’s coming from,” Hardnett said. “It’s usually around February when everyone is on board.”

However, a big test comes to town Friday night at 6 in the form of Kent State. It’s a game that was moved from Saturday afternoon to accommodate a television broadcast. The Golden Flashes are in the hunt for the MAC regular-season title, and they beat the Bulls 74-68 on January 27.

“Offensively, we have to have our ‘A’ game,” Whitesell said. “Down there, we played well at times but we were not complete. They’re physical. They play good defense. They’re the team that’s favored to win our league. We have to lock in.”

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)

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