The UB Men’s Basketball team’s schedule is very much a mixed bag this year, combining some difficult road challenges with marguee matchups and some more manageable home tilts. Wednesday night in Bowling Green Kentucky fits firmly in the first category. The Hilltoppers under Rick Stansbury have been a solid program and tough to beat at home.
At to the challenge the absence of Jeenathan Williams, arguably their best player, and another rotation regular in Curtis Jones and the degree of difficulty was raised even higher. The Bulls rose to the moment in what was likely their best 40 minute effort of the season, all things considered, in securing a 77-67 victory.
WKU got off of the line first and led by as many as 12 during the middle stretches of the first half, but the Bulls steadied and went on a run of their own, ultimately, leading 40-35 at the half, largely on the strength of 11 first half points from Maceo Jack. These came courtesy of three triples and a highlight reel dunk over Hilltopper center Jamarion Sharp who, at 7-5, is the nation’s leading shot blocker. The shorthanded squad needed someone to step up in the absence of their leading scorer and Jack was that someone in the first half.
The game play was largely even well into the second half, with the outcome in doubt until just under 10 minutes or so, when the Bulls put together another run to claim an 11 point lead, keyed by three consecutive triples by Keishawn Brewton. Playing a larger role, like Jack in the first half, Brewton’s hot stretch from deep delivered the burst of energy needed to take control.
From there the good guys controlled play to get this one in the garage, so to speak, defending and rebounding well, finishing with a commanding 42-28 lead on the backboards overall. Key to this was the 30 minutes Travon Fagan played, largely at the ‘3’ spot in Jeenathan Williams absence, giving the Bulls three players 6-8 or taller on the floor for long stretches. He finished with 8 points and 7 boards, making all 3 of his shots, including on long ball. He was the unsung hero for the Blue and White.
Filling their usual bell cow roles were Josh Mballa with 19 and 9 boards and Ronaldo Segu with 18 and 7 assists. Credit Coach Whitesell for trusting walk on Jamon Bivens with a few minutes each half with the backcourt depleted, and Bivens for delivering; allowing Segu the minutes he needed off the floor to be strong enough to fill the role he plays driving tempo and distributing the ball, in addition to his own shot making.
David Skogman played 23 minutes and had 6 points and 6 boards, contributing in his new role as the primary ‘5’ man. With Bertram seen on the bench in a walking boot and Whitesell referring post game to his ‘bad foot’, counting on him to contribute this season would seem unrealistic. Skogman settling in as a solid contributor in his role will be huge for UB down the stretch.
Jeenathan Williams, as noted, was absent with a non-Covid illness, so hopefully he won’t miss any more games. Curtis Jones was said to be back home in Minneapolis with a family issue, so his status going forward is a bit murkier.
The Bulls should be able to survive their next matchup against St. John Fisher on Saturday at 1pm in Alumni Arena without them if either needs to miss another game. A ‘road’ game at Canisius at KeyBank Arena follows the following Saturday, before non-conference play wraps up against UC Irvine on the 21st.