The UB Men’s Basketball team had a valuable game experience against Michigan on Wednesday night to open their out of conference schedule. Despite ultimately falling on the road by a score of 88-76 in Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, MI, there were many lessons available to the Bulls, courtesy of the defending Big 10 Champion Wolverines.
On a night where Buffalo watched the opponent raise a banner commemorating their previous season’s success, they came out looking uncomfortable. Whether this was due to the opponent, environment, being opening night, or some combination of these factors, the end result was poor shooting, especially from deep, in the first half. Their first lesson learned should be that they have to be ready to play from the tip for a full 40 minutes, especially against the best of opponents.
To be clear, the Bulls won’t play many teams as talented, athletic and deep as they did last night. Michigan, despite some key roster losses, is ranked sixth in the preseason and is again one of the favorites to win the Big 10 and to do damage in the NCAA tournament. Their reloaded roster looked up to the task on this night. Hunter Dickinson is huge and talented and a load down low for any team to account for. The mix of experienced returners and five-star freshmen has Michigan looking to build on last season’s Elite 8 finish.
After being largely overwhelmed in falling behind 51-36 at the half, the Bulls showed their experience and mental toughness in not only not folding, but in making a serious second half rally that twice cut the Michigan lead to 5 about midway through. After expending so much energy, however, they came up short maintaining their defensive intensity and offensive execution while Big Blue re-established control between the under 8 and under 4 timeouts and cruised home. Hopefully the team will have learned that they can play with anyone if they play their best and need to continue to find the right mix to hit on all cylinders as much as they can.
The Bulls were much better overall in the 2H, but not at shooting threes; going 3-12 to follow up a 2-16 showing before the break. In order to have a look at defeating high end teams they will need to shoot much better from long range. While I don’t suspect this will ever be a great strength for the team, I am still confident they will shoot it better than they did in this game.
Buffalo was not without its individual high points, either. First among those was Jeenathan Williams, who had a career high 32 points as well as 8 boards, and led the 2H charge. He was not intimidated or impacted at all by Michigans big frontcourt and attached the rim and hit a couple of threes. He looked primed for a huge season and a run at a MAC POTY award.
Ronaldo Segu was likewise aggressive and effective in his 38 minutes, contributing 15 and 4 assists, without a turnover and very often controlling pace and executing for teammates in the half court. If they get PG play like this from him consistently, this team will be fine.
Josh Mballa was emblematic of the team, mirroring a rough first half and a much improved, more under control second half. He is a strong and athletic 4 man and will dominate weaker front-courts. Against Michigan, early foul trouble contributed to a measured first half adjusting to their stout front-line, but once he settled in and found his footing, he did his normal work on the o-boards in the second half. A big time throw down punctuating once of the spurts in 2H run was a highlight, as was his 7-7 showing at the charity stripe. He needs to continue to hone his shot selection as the season goes on.
Maceo Jack looked fluid and athletic, but did not have his shooting or finishing touch (2-12, 1-8 from distance), resulting in a rough debut for the transfer. I believe the shots will fall for Jack as the season progresses.
Brock Bertram struggled in his matchup with Dickinson as did David Skogman. Skogman showed better as the game progressed and he did log 24 minutes, contributing 6 points and 5 boards.
The remainder of the bench didn’t contribute much at the same level and LaQuill Hardnett’s absence was felt.
Credit Coach Whitesell and the staff for nursing the team through the initial Wolverine wave and regrouping at halftime to make it a contest. Hopefully they’ll help the players internalize the lessons derived from scheduling an early season challenge like this.
The Bulls will stay on the road and head to the DFW Metroplex for a matchup Monday night with the Mean Grean of North Texas at the SuperPit in Denton, the site of last season’s heartbreaking finale loss to Colorado St. All with the program will be hoping for a better outcome this time.