Coming off their first season-opening win in a few years, the Buffalo Bulls headed to Kentucky Sunday afternoon as part of the Cawood Ledford Classic. Kentucky, of course, boasts nine McDonald's All-Americans and sits #1 in the nation.
Instant reactions from the 71-52 Kentucky win that took the Wildcats 27 minutes to start to pull away:
Fouls: The Women's team was undone in their season-opener Friday afternoon by too many fouls, and the Buffalo men likewise had trouble early. Sophomore Shannon Evans was whistled twice in the first three minutes and while the Bulls were able to stay roughly even with the Wildcats on offense, thanks in particular to an early blitz from junior Jarryn Skeete, who dropped three triples in the first five minutes, one forcing a UK timeout at 12-10 UB, but continually saw their momentum thwarted by fouls: when Xavier Ford came up with a block, Justin Moss picked up his second on the ensuing break, and the Bulls were whistled for their eighth team foul just six minutes in.
At the under-twelve media timeout, Kentucky was on the edge of the double bonus, while UB would hit the bonus on the next Wildcats foul. Kentucky led 20-18 despite rotating a full first and second unit in and out early.
Hanging tough: Rodell Wigginton stepped up in a big way today. Midway through the first half, he made a strong play from the in the paint got UB to 20-20, before an Evans free throw 21-20 and some scrappy play showed that UB was not going away. Bobby Hurley called a timeout - say what you want in other areas, but you cannot deny he's better at that than his predecessor - after a triple from Tyler Ulis, and UB kept moving. The biggest part of the middle of the half? UB didn't commit a foul in five minutes, and actually hit the double bonus before Kentucky.
Jarryn Skeete & Justin Moss: Skeete didn't miss a shot until late in the first half with UB up 32-31. Before that he hit four triples, the last giving UB a 26-25 lead. Then, Justin Moss.
Justin Moss is a bad man.
A HUGE dunk that you will definitely see on Sportscenter tonight put UB up 30-25, and continued strong play from the junior had UB up five heading into the half.
I have been high on Moss since the end of last year, since he was at times a point-per-minute player in relief of Javon McCrea, and I assure those of you who are not normal readers of Bull Run that this is normal for him.
Shades of Pitt and UConn (and BYU?): Depending on how long your memory is, you know what UB can do. A decade and a half ago, Reggie Witherspoon stepped in in his first game and had UB up at the half against North Carolina. In 2006 and 2008, UB hosted a pair of #2-ranked teams in Alumni Arena and had chances to win in the final minute of each against Pitt and UConn. More recently, Jimmer Fredette's 'homecoming' game for BYU his senior year saw Buffalo draw within one at the half before BYU got some very Jimmer-friendly calls and pulled away in the second. I won't lie and saw I wasn't thinking of all of that at the half.
At the half
UB led 38-33 at the half. What.
Kentucky was shooting 34% and 3-14 from three. Unsurpringly UK was outrebounding the Bulls by 8, but also had 10 turnovers to UB's 7.
Individually for the Bulls, Justin Moss had a loud 8 points, Wigginton a scrappy 10, and Jarryn Skeete 14 on excellent three-point shooting. Surprisingly, UB was up despite just two combined points from Shannon Evans and Will Regan. Lamonte Bearden looked comfortable on the big stage, leading the Bulls in assists.
You had to expect this: Officially, it was 50, but it felt like seven seconds for Kentucky to erase that 5 point lead and force a turnover. Hurley did a good job of calling a quick timeout to stem the tide, but you knew the game wasn't over.
Hanging tough, redux: UK couldn't pull away immediately. When Buffalo needed points today, they got them from Rodell Wiggonton, fighting back to a 43-43 tie with 15 to play and even taking a 45-43 lead. from the 13-minute mark, though the Wildcats found a spark, going on a 7-0 run over 90 seconds sparked by three consecutive turnovers, and two very big dunks from Alex Poythress.
Assists, turnovers, and threes: At the midway mark of the half, UB still didn't have an assist in the second stanza, while UK was starting to heat up from three, as Tyler Ulis hit his fourth three. A few more turnovers from the Bulls helped UK build a 56-47 lead - the largest of the game. Meanwhile, UB's Will Regan had a three-point shot blocked, the third or fourth time UK had managed that today. Suddenly, Buffalo didn't have it, and UK was on a 15-2 run with 7:18 to go. UB had just 7 turnovers in the first half, and 9 in the first 14 minutes of the second.
UB's tenth and final point of the half came with five minutes to play. Good game, good effort. The fouls started to pile up, and it was a calmer final few minutes as the string played itself out.
Rotation: Hurley stuck with an eight-man rotation throughout the afternoon, as we've seen in the exhibition against Wheeling Jesuit and opening win against South Dakota State. Mory Diane didn't get any minutes, but otherwise it was the usual suspects all the way through for the Bulls, who saw no one foul out despite many getting close.
How did this get away from ME?: I'm posting this before the press conference and hearing Hurley's words, but I feel compelled to include this press conference from the onetime dean of MAC basketball coaches, Charlie Coles. RIP Charlie.
The biggest differences today on the stat sheet came in rebounds and assists: 45 and 17 for Kentucky to just 25 and 5 or Buffalo. UB managed fewer than ten offensive boards. The two teams shot at about the same rate, until the game was out of reach, around 37%, but UK got more than a dozen more shots from the floor than the Bulls.
Individually, everyone slowed down for Buffalo in the second, but Buffalo got diverse scoring, including double digits from Skeete and Wigginton, as Bearden and Moss had 6 and 8. No one had more than 6 rebounds for the Bulls.
UB will travel to Texas-Arlington Tuesday evening to continue the Cawood Ledford Classic. Tipoff against the Roadrunners is at 8:00 Eastern. If the Bulls can extend today's first 27 minutes to a full forty, this afternoon could be their only loss heading into a 28 December showdown with a second 2014 Final Four team in Wisconsin.