The air was electric, the stands in Alumni Arena were packed with over 3,000 hungry UB fans, and they were all ready for Year 2 of the Hurley Era to begin.
After a several minutes of back and forth play, with UB scoring off early foul shots from freshman sensation Lamonte Bearden and a few layups from junior forward Justin Moss, Moss put the crowd on their feet with a monster put back slam dunk. The dunk was one of several electrifying plays from the 6-foot-7 junior, who moved into the starting lineup following the departure of MAC Player of the Year Javon McCrea.
Moss did his best McCrea impression, putting up a double-double, with 25 points and 13 boards, while also showcasing his blocking talent, denying a pair of South Dakota State shots. Moss was the Bulls' most consistent player inside the paint, as senior forward Will Regan was held without a field goal, though he scored on all four of his opportunities from the free throw line.
Coming out of halftime, South Dakota State went on a run early to build up an 8 point lead, their largest of the game, before the Bulls kicked into over drive by a huge 3-pointer from sophomore guard Shannon Evans. Evans started his sophomore campaign off on a strong note with a 17 point performance; both he and freshman Lamonte Bearden showed a willingness to drive in to the basket and draw fouls, something that helped give the Bulls the advantage in the end. Bearden, meanwhile, finished his first game as a Bull with 8 points and 6 assists after playing for 23 minutes.
Later on in the second half after what seemed like an eternity between UB scores, Coach Hurley called a timeout to regroup his team, and shortly after transfer Rodell Wigginton had a monster put back dunk and all 3,000+ fans in Alumni Arena rose to their feet in unison and a deafening roar befell the court. Shortly after UB took the lead from South Dakota State, Justin Moss blocked a layup attempt and the crowd was roaring, and the tide of the game was turning.
But, after Justin Moss fouled out with just under 4 minutes remaining, on what many in the crowd deemed to be a bogus call, and with UB clinging to a 1 point lead it seemed like UB would start to collapse and the game would slip out of hand. However, with under a minute remaining and the Bulls down by one, junior Jarryn Skeete made a layup of an inbound from Evans to give UB the lead. Then, on the ensuing South Dakota State possession Skeete again made a play and swiped the ball away from Deondre Parks, effectively sealing the win for the Bulls.
GAME NOTES/BY THE NUMBERS:
- Justin Moss' 23 points and 11 rebounds were both career highs. He was also a perfect 11-of-11 from the free throw line.
- As a team, the Bulls shot 80% from the free throw line; but shot only a paltry 11% from beyond the arc, with Shannon Evans' make early in the second half being the only trey made by UB.
- Freshman point guard Lamonte Bearden accounted for 6 of UB's 8 team assists. He was also the first freshman to start a season opener since 2005-2006 when Greg Gamble did.
- The Bulls protected the ball well, only turning the ball over 8 times, while forcing 14 South Dakota State turnovers.
- The victory was UB's first season-opening win since 2011-2012 when they defeated St. Peters in Javon McCrea's first start as a Bull.