When college basketball players envision their careers culminating on Senior Night, they probably don’t picture a scene like the one the UB Men’s Basketball team experienced Friday night in Alumni Arena. Another of the casualties of COVID, the last home game for Jayvon Graves, Brock Bertram, Travon Fagan, David Nickelberry and Jamon Bivens was devoid of a crowd and the normal inclusion of families.
(It should be noted that any of these players could return for another season if they so choose as the NCAA has already made it known that this year will not count against eligibility for winter sport athletes due to COVID altering the season so extensively).
Nonetheless, Coach Whitesell continued a time-honored tradition and started all five, including Bivens, a walk-on guard. The Bulls were no worse for the alteration of their normal lineup jumping out to an 11-6 lead before the normal starting five reunited around the first media timeout. From there, Buffalo mostly maintained control of the game, even if they never completely shook the pesky Flashes in an 81-67 home win to close out the regular season. Full credit to the effort from Rob Senderoff’s squad who were overmatched without three key regulars, including, arguably, their two best players, Mike Nuga and Danny Pippen, the latter as a coach’s decision.
With the win, the Bulls move to 14-7 overall and 12-5 in MAC play and secure the second seed in next weeks’ conference tournament in Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse (the Q!).
The season returns to a more normal rhythm for at least the next week as the MAC will stage its tournament, minus only the on-campus pre-quarterfinal round, and the goal remains the same: win and get in the Big Dance. Based on their recent surge, the Blue and White have as good of a shot as any team, especially as their path now seems more manageable, with another chance at top-seed and favorite Toledo possible in the Finals next Saturday. Graves and crew have now won five in a row and 8 of 9, with only the loss to the Rockets marring their finishing kick. Early season inabilities to defeat upper tier opponents and failure to execute late in close games also seem to be in the rear view.
Jayvon Graves was aggressive early and set the tone on his way to a 17pt/9reb/7asst/3steal effort to close out a remarkable career. He has been such a good player from the day he arrived on campus that it’s often been easy to constantly expect more from him. While not fair of any player, that’s especially true of Graves who has represented the program with dignity and aplomb and will have his name scattered throughout the program record books, a testament to his all around abilities. He’s been a key player on some of the school’s best teams and his career, hopefully, is far from over.
Brock Bertram had a modest 4 pts and 5 reb, but it was his one steal that exemplified the Brock experience; selflessy launching all 6feet 11inches and 250ish pounds of him to secure a steal that teammates finished for a bucket on the other end. The consummate teammate has worked diligently and has become a quality contributor in his final two seasons. By all accounts, there’s nothing he hasn’t been willing to give to the program.
David Nickelberry and Travon Fagan were both late arrivals to WNY in their careers and seem likely to return to exhaust available eligibility. Nickelberry continued a recent uptick in his play with 10 points, including 2 three pointers. Fagan didn’t produce as prolifically as he has in recent contests, but contributed a highlight rejection.
Jamon Bivens, a multi-year walk on member of the program from Atlanta, gave the coaching staff 6 good minutes, chipping in a hoop and 2 blocks.
When We Knew It Was Decided
When Jeenathan Williams finished another runout with a two handed jam, off of Bertram’s previously mentioned hustle steal, he not only punctuated a bounce back game for him, he also probably put the nail in Kent’s coffin. Shooting much better, he finished with 21 points, going 8-11 from the floor overall and 2-3 from range. Wouldn’t surprise me to hear he had been in the gym dialing his jump shot in the past few days, a great sign for the Bulls.
Mballa was his normal presence inside and Segu did his part with 7 assists and making all 4 free throws late to help seal the deal.
Buffalo as a team was 12-15 overall from the line and 10-11 in the 2nd half in another encouraging development as we hit the post season and again obliterated their opponent on the boards, 43-30.
With an at-large bid out of reach and the prospects of NIT inclusion diminished by a reduction of the field, the Bulls are in win or go home territory when they next play Thursday, March 11 against the RedHawks. Miami secured the 7 seed despite their last game being cancelled. Game time is TBD, but all of the games on Thursday will stream on ESPN+.