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Immediate reactions: UB 76, Eastern Michigan 66

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

To see Bobby Hurley’s arrival in Buffalo boded well for the University at Buffalo’s crowded backcourt.

No question the talent was already there—Jarod Oldham had the experience, Jarryn Skeete improved mightily in his freshman season and incoming freshman Shannon Evans was touted as a game-changer. Transfer Joshua Freelove brought a refined three-point stroke and a label of instant offense.

Even for a former National Championship guard whose father is the career leader for wins in New Jersey high school history, molding young talent is still a new challenge for the first-time Division I head coach.

After a non-conference schedule that was littered with inconsistent guard play—some dynamic performances, some remarkably forgettable—the MAC slate demands steady perimeter players, questions remained as to whether UB’s guards were up to the task, especially with foes committed to taking away Javon McCrea.

On Saturday Alumni Arena, Hurley’s guards—most notably Jarryn Skeete (19 points, four treys), Jarod Oldham (11 points, seven assists) and Shannon Evans (five points, five assists)—flourished in the second half, making the difference in UB’s 76-66 win over Eastern Michigan.

The Bulls improved to 8-4 overall, 2-0 in the Mid-American Conference, and they’ll travel to Toledo (12-2 overall, 0-1 MAC) for their first conference road game on Wednesday night.

Off to the Immediate Reactions:

Guard explosion: There are times that UB’s stable of guards looks really, really bad—careless turnovers, ill-advised shots and shaky perimeter defense are common, and glares from guard to guard and scolding from Bobby Hurley is the norm. 

While these were on full display in the first half, three of Buffalo’s four regular guards began to catch fire and play with a swagger that was absent over the first 20 minutes.

Combined stats for Jarod Oldham, Jarryn Skeete and Shannon Evans in the second half: 27 points, 8-18 shooting, eight assists and one turnover. This is after a first half where the trio combined for eight points, 3-11 shooting, five assists and four turnovers.

Sparkling Shannon: Jarryn Skeete and Bobby Hurley both alluded to this post-game: when Shannon Evans (pictured, header) is aggressive in maneuvering into the lane, setting up others and leading the charge in transition.

Of UB’s three difference-making guards Saturday, Evans’ overall stats spoke the least, but his energy and emotion in the game’s final five minutes—where he racked up five points, three assists and a steal in UB’s closing 20-10 run—came at a crucial juncture and urged the Bulls to victory.

Regan watch: I’ve had to force myself to remember that Will Regan is only 12 games into his junior season—he’s by no means a finished product yet.

Worries that Regan’s development had stagnated a bit under Reggie Witherspoon were allayed his 36-point explosion against Ball State in the MAC Tournament, but there were several times last season it was tough to keep him on the court when he was a defensive liability (there were seven games in which he played 20 minutes or fewer).

The encouraging part is that, while Regan doesn’t look any thicker or stronger as a junior, he’s more active in the paint—he working relentlessly to patrol the baseline against the EMU zone and proved a threat because of his effort and will (six points, two rebounds in first five minutes, finished with 11 points, four boards). Smart movement off the ball is a good way to mitigate a lack of strength or speed.

Thinking back to Mitchell Watt and even Titus Robinson to an extent, the light didn’t click until very late in their careers—sure, it’s taken Regan a little longer to balance his strengths and weaknesses, but there’s still a future, and it’s still bright.

Eastern Michigan’s preferred style: EMU head coach Rob Murphy, now in his third year with the Eagles, spent the prior seven as an assistant to Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.

As a result, it’s no shock that Murphy’s employs a 2-3 zone as his base defense, and the strategy meshes decently with his personnel (long big men, quick guards). Running an efficient offense, however, is a work-in-progress for Murphy, whose team turned the ball over 17 times and completely eroded down the stretch—forcing bad three-pointer after bad three-pointer.

Disappointing Da’Shonte: Seriously, for most of Da’Shonte Riley’s minutes on Saturday, the redshirt-senior big man looked terrified that he’d step on a shard of glass, playing hesitantly at both ends—and finding himself in foul trouble as a result. We expected much more accelerated development from the Syracuse transfer, as you don’t see many athletic 7-footers in the Mid-American Conference.

Hurley called Riley a good rim protector because of his height and length, doling out some credit for challenging McCrea, but—unless there’s an unforeseen development in his passion for the game—he won’t be the player that carries the Eagles to a surprising MAC title.

Eagles take flight: I may have given Murphy and the Eagles grief for folding when UB made its late run, but there’s enough talent to challenge Toledo atop the MAC West.

For instance, two EMU threes by Karrington Ward gave Eagles its largest lead, seven points, at first media timeout of the second half. After UB’s Xavier Ford hit one of two free throws, Ward drove hard left and finished strong off the glass—an 8-1 solo run for the JUCO transfer. Unfortunately, Ward’s spurt was brief, as he wound up with 10 points for the game.

Eagles PG Mike Talley won’t be thrilled with his final stat-line—six assists and six turnovers—but the junior transfer from Duquesne has the makings of a top-tier MAC floor general. He’s smooth in transition, adept at getting into the lane and can finish on his own at the rim.

Cutting down on turnovers is a must, but his quickness is reminiscent of former Akron PG Alex Abreu.

Raven Lee’s history of off-the-court transgressions is a big reason why he didn’t wind up at a high major school like Baylor or Iowa State—both of whom were on his recruiting trail—but the red-shirt frosh from Romulus, Mich., put on a show in the game’s first 3:10, sinking two perimeter jumpers, sailing in for a layup and knifing into the lane with an awe-inspiring spin move.

Lee’s lack of discipline down the stretch was alarming—it seemed like Ward and Lee fought for the title of “who could dominate the ball without being effective”—but he’s a high-major talent.

(Photos courtesy of Robin David Brown).

TAGGED: amherst, college basketball, eastern michigan eagles, mac, mid-american conference, ub bulls

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  1. Big Ben January 11, 2014 @ 6:38pm

    Nice win for the Bulls, and I agree that EMU has the talent to be a force. Two things I enjoyed from the Eagles today: Glenn Bryant yelling at himself and punching himself in the head after making threes, and Rob Murphy having a profanity-laced, clipboard-spiking, Grade-A freakout on Karrington Ward during a late-game timeout. Boeheim would approve.

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  2. Ben Tsujimoto January 13, 2014 @ 10:59am

    I’m sure Bryant’s two-hands-to-the-head celebration had some rhyme or reason behind it, but he did do it with a lot of force. I hope he doesn’t drop 30 on someone, because he’ll certainly suffer self-inflicted facial bruising.

    Rob Murphy apparently didn’t realize there were youngsters in the audience.

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