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Buffalo Bulls Men's Basketball: Cornell Win Should Convince Us

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Usually after a UB game and the instant recap piece I would write a second piece of things we learned or a few more things you might have missed, or whatever. But today I feel like it's got to be a bit different.

I'm sitting here, hours after UB completely ran away from the Cornell Big Red to close out their nonconference slate, and perhaps I'm working with a bit of recency bias, but I have to think in my ten years of following UB Basketball that there aren't more than ten single-game performances in the same conversation as Shannon Evans' this weekend.

Now, Cornell isn't a particularly good team, slightly below average at 7-9 against a middling schedule coming into this afternoon. It seemed their fans were hoping for a .500 record this year. But they're a good deal better than the atrocious Binghamton team Evans diced up on Tuesday night.

Of course, Tuesday the sophomore put down the first triple-double in program history, and there's no comparison to that. It's a little more common to see someone put up 30+ points.

Thinking aloud, though, only maybe half of the 30-point performances over the last decade are that memorable. Off the top of my head, Javon McCrea had 34 against Bowling Green and 31 against Kent State last year* and Will Regan 36 in the MAC tournament against Ball State a bit back. Rodney Pierce scored 20+ in nine straight, including 31 twice, in 09-10, and Cage had 37 in that 111-107 2OT loss at Kent State in 05-06. Eric Moore had 36 in the Martin Samarco game.

*I also remember he had 31 against Niagara, but I find it hard to count, because it's far more memorable that we lost to Niagara in that atrocious game.

I found eight more with some research, but my point here is that even something that only happens once or twice a year, on average, isn't always memorable seasons down the line. Loosely, of those I can remember, I'd put Moore, Cage, and Regan on one tier, and Pierce, McCrea, and Evans on the next.

The only name on that list who was a sophomore at the time is Moore. The only two who matched or exceeded Evans' eight threes on their nights were Moore and Regan. Throw in the triple-double, and only McCrea or Pierce at their finest can match that over multiple games.

The amazing thing, though, is that in the first half while Cornell staked out a lead on perimeter shooting, Evans wasn't really around. The sophomore didn't score until 15 minutes in the game, but his late three that gave Buffalo the lead put him at 11 points. Meanwhile, Lamonte Bearden matched him with 11 first half points and 4 assists, and would go on to a points-assists double-double.

Bearden became the fifth Bull to notch a double-double this season and has four games of six or more assists to Evans' five. UB as a team has had five double-digit scorers twice and four thrice. Three Bulls are averaging double-digits, but six are averaging seven or more points per game. With all respect to the guy, two years ago Richie Sebuharara was on scholarship for his senior year. That's a lot of new talent coming in very fast.

It's easy to be excited after a 92-point outburst and a 9-3 record against frankly a middling out of conference schedule. (After leading Kentucky and Wisconsin at the half, I think the most impressive part of the first twelve games has simply been avoiding the letdown game and not losing more than once more.) But 9-3 or better starts of any sort are rare since the return to D1; only happening in 2005-06 (11-1) and 2004-05 (9-3). Seasons in which UB has the advantage over their collective opponents in every statistical category - as they do now - are likewise rare: last year was the first time it happened.

2005-06 went south when conference play started, and we know how 2004-05 went. I haven't watched a lot of other MAC teams this year, but the guys at Hustle Belt seem generally impressed with the Bulls so far, and the Hurley name and the flashy style catch the national eye nearly every game.

To close out the best nonconference slate in nine years, the Bulls last night put together one of their most complete offensive performances of the last two. You can go back to the recap or find a box score to get specific numbers. There might be cause for concern in the short bench, but UB was still outrunning Cornell deep into the second half despite only using seven bodies. Jarryn Skeete will be back on Wednesday, and that's when things really get serious.

Evans' play over the last two games is a big deal. UB's play over the opening 12 is also a big deal. I'll have a little more of a look at the season so far in a nonconference recap in the next few days, and we'll likely do more looking back to UB teams of the last ten years as the strong start continues.

I don't want to go nuts now and make plans for March, but it seems other than a general lack of complaints, there's not a ton of excitement about what is so far the best start in ten years, led by one of the most electric players of the last ten years, and supplemented by at least four other players who would be serious contributors on any UB team over the last ten years. That seems to me a strong indicator of the upward growth of the program and fan expectations, but that's a story for another day.

After 12 consistent games, interrupted only by bona fide Final Four contenders and a fluke confluence of injuries, all I can take away is that I'm willing to let myself get more excited.