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Bulls behind the scenes: UB’s 72-65 win over St. Peter’s

Photo by Dave Marino

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

No, the Buffalo Bulls were not flawless in their season-opening 72-65 victory over St. Peter’s—and frankly, you couldn’t expect them to be. Still, the atmosphere at Alumni Arena—stimulated by the new theater-style lighting and 1400 boisterous students behind the basket—was electric, and Buffalo withstood a late rally to close out its first win.

“Obviously we have a lot to work on, but I thought it was a good test for us tonight,” Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon said.  “St. Peter’s played really hard, but our guys persevered through the ups and downs of the adrenaline rush with it being the first game and wanting to be entertainers at times, but I thought we did a pretty good job.  We have to close it out better and we have to shoot free throws better.”

Here’s what we learned:

1)  Head coach Reggie Witherspoon was really concerned about adrenaline getting the best of his Bulls in the team’s home opener. The coach cited new point guard Jarod Oldham’s first career start as an example—even though the sophomore defended well and avoided turnovers, Witherspoon emphasized composure to his point guard, a need to harness Oldham’s instincts to try to do too much at both ends.

“[Oldham]‘s still got this adrenaline thing that, when he gets going, he wants to be an entertainer,” Witherspoon said. “We’re trying to get him to pick his spots—when he composes himself and doesn’t reach, he can be a terrific defender.” 

Oldham wound up with 8 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and only one turnover, a well-rounded line in the first start for a player that’s not a natural point guard. With Tony Watson II on the shelf for a few weeks, Corey Raley-Ross acted as the backup at the 1, but logged only 10 minutes.

“There was a lot of pressure, but once the game got started I got the feel for the game,” Oldham explained. “I tried to make easy passes and keep the game as simple as possible.” 

2) Mitchell Watt’s strength gain—20-25 pounds of muscle over the off-season—paid dividends. “Not only from a strength standpoint [did the weight gain make a difference], but I feel like I’m in better cardiovascular shape,” the senior center admitted. “I didn’t really get tired out there on the floor—I can stay lower and more powerful throughout the possessions. St. Peter’s played a lot of zone—but in man, [the added strength] will show in the low post, you’ll see a bigger improvement there.”

3) When the Bulls are at their peak, the emphasis is on crashing the glass and creating second-chance opportunities. In the first half, after which the Bulls led 36-24, Buffalo converted 13 offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points.  With a frontcourt that will only get deeper and bigger—Witherspoon mentioned in the post-game presser that he’d like to deepen his rotation (more of Cameron Downing and Xavier Ford, I’d imagine)—Buffalo should have the most physical corps of big men in the MAC. 

4)  Watt, the elder spokesman of the team now, said two prescient things in the presser.  First, he noted that opponents may start in man-to-man defense against Buffalo, but the Bulls’ physical superiority will force their foes to quickly shift to a zone defense, a strategy reliant on communication and spacing to hide mismatches.  Fortunately for Buffalo, the bigs—namely Watt and McCrea—are excellent passers with reliable hands, so they can compete adequately against both styles of defense. 

5) Secondly, Watt mentioned that the Bulls like to get the ball inside early.  Did he mean that the Bulls run the offense through the high post early in a possession, allowing their guards to hunt open space?  Or does he mean that Buffalo will intentionally attack the paint in the first half, forcing the ball to the bigs?  While Watt didn’t specify, it’s likely that both are true. Javon McCrea is a truly gifted passer who can also put the ball on the floor—there’s a reason why Basketball Prospectus has him as the 30th best Division I basketball player. 

Buffalo hosts the Cornell Big Red on Wednesday night at Alumni Arena.  The Ivy League school fell to St. Bonaventure tonight in Olean.

(Photo credit: Dave Marino.)

See more photos from the game here.

TAGGED: buffalo bulls, jarod oldham, javon mccrea, mitchell watt, reggie witherspoon, university at buffalo

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