One of the negative early season trends for the Bulls reared its ugly head again and this time a strong second half rally fell short as UB dropped a 79-78 decision to the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin in the first on-site game of the Cancun Challenge. Buffalo was lethargic, passive and sloppy from the opening tip and quickly fell behind 8-0 and by as many as 12 in the first half, in a game flow that was eerily similar to the game against North Texas.
Recent iterations of successful Buffalo basketball teams have prided themselves on being Blue Collar. It is their ethos; the coaches wear mechanic shirts and they give out a hardhat after each game to the winner of the Blue Collar performance. On this night, they fell well short of that standard, being outworked, out-hustled and, tellingly, out-rebounded. SFA, specifically, killed them on the O-boards, running up 18 second chance points on 18 second (and third) chances. Taken with their 17 points off of 20 Bull turnovers, this was a decidely poorly played game.
While it is still early, and a quality 2h against Michigan shows their upside, the rest of the game play so far shows how inconsistently they reach that upside. If that cannot be changed, the expectations for the season will likely need to be altered. Whether playing Michigan or directional Michigan, if the Bulls don’t show up ready to play, give effort, energy and intensity, take care of the ball, defend and rebound, their season will fall short of what they want.
There were bright spots. They once again played a strong(er) 2h, and especially last 8-12 minutes, led by Rondo Segu’s 22 points (of a career high 25) after the break. The team was noticeably more energetic and aggressive right out of intermission, but, unfortunately, the execution took a little longer to improve. Another good closing kick actually saw them take a brief 1 point lead before SFA took the lead back for good. Disappointingly, Maceo Jack and Jeenathan Williams each had good looks at long balls down 78-75 and neither could get the shot to go down in what was their last best chances.
Ronaldo Segu set a new career high with 25 points, highlighted by a 4 point play, and added 4 assists, although he did turn the ball over 6 times. He was noticeably aggressive down the stretch, trying to will the Bulls back and came up just short. They will need steadier, more consistent ball and pace control from their lead guard going forward.
The rest of the rotation core each had their moments, but also their struggles. Brock Bertram has not played well to open the season and Coach Whitesell was apparently not happy with David Skogman as the first guy off the bench didn’t play much again after 4 early minutes. Instead LaQuill Hardnett and Travon Fagan got the bulk of the minutes, with Fagan giving the best contributions. Hardnett’s interior defense was lacking. The Bulls will need to resolve who will be the fifth man on the floor with the big four in critical situations and to close out games. Brewton and Jones gave the backcourt starters their time off, but neither did much of note. Perhaps its time for freshman Mading or Blocker to get a look to see if they’re ready to give them anything.
The Bulls will be back in action against Illinois State at 6pm tonight in Cancun.