Spirits were high around the UB locker room Thursday afternoon. Neither the heartbreaking at-the-buzzer loss at Toledo nor the tedious bus trip home through whiteouts seems to have enervated or demoralized the Bulls.
Junior forward Xavier Ford, a starter the last two games, went so far as to call the Toledo game “a statement loss,” similar to the overtime setback suffered against Manhattan in Brooklyn. It makes sense. Those two games against a pair of conference title contenders underscored UB’s capabilities more than some of its wins.
“It just shows that we’re a team to take serious and we have a chance to compete for the championship and we get that,” Ford said.
“We can sustain anybody’s best punch,” said senior guard Jarod Oldham. “Toledo gave us all they had. I mean, we responded after every single play. The outcome wasn’t what we wanted but we’re still proud of what we did. We fought hard.”
UB’s positive outlook qualifies as necessity because there’s no time to wallow in self-pity. The Bulls (8-5, 2-1) now shift into divisional play and get Kent State (11-5, 2-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Alumni Arena with the winner retaining at least a share of second place in the Mid-American Conference East.
“The East is always going to be tough,” Oldham said. “We need to protect our home floor,”
The Golden Flashes swept three games from UB last season: 80-68 at Alumni Arena, 83-81 in OT at Kent and 70-68 in the MAC Tournament. Kent lost its top two scorers off that team and has been erratic of late, losing three straight before winning its last two.
St. Bonaventure (11-6, 1-2) can relate to a mix of encouragement and dissatisfaction UB took from its last result. Doubly so. The Bonnies return to the Reilly Center at 7 p.m. Saturday after seeing a 13-point lead evaporate in a 73-68 loss at current No. 16 UMass last Saturday followed by a 66-60 defeat at No. 24 Saint Louis on Wednesday. The challenge has been so arduous that Saturday night’s game against George Washington represents a theoretical easing in the schedule. GW is 14-3 overall and 2-1 in the Atlantic 10 but resides only on the fringes of the national rankings.
The Bona and UB games highlight on the home front a Big 4 weekend teeming with men’s and women’s action. It all begins at 11 this morning with Kid’s Day women’s games that have Canisius home to Monmouth and Niagara entertaining Marist. The men’s action opens at 9 tonight as Canisius (11-6, 5-1) and Iona (8-7, 5-1) meet up in New Rochelle in a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference first-place showdown on ESPNU. Griffs guard Billy Baron sits sixth nationally in scoring at 22.9 points a game while Iona is 20th in scoring offense at 82.8.
Saturday features a women’s-men’s doubleheader at both UB and Bona. The UB women (8-7, 1-3) face Eastern Michigan (12-3, 2-2) at 2:30 Saturday and the Bonnies (13-6, 2-2) get things started at the Reilly Center at 4:30 against Saint Louis (5-11, 0-3).
Meanwhile, on the men’s side, Niagara finishes up its road trip at 4 on Saturday against Quinnipiac (9-6, 4-2).
The Marist women are always a supreme challenge in the MAAC but maybe even more so this weekend. The Red Foxes hit Western New York with a chip on their shoulder after their winning streak against conference foes ended at 36 with Monday’s 73-71 to Iona in a battle between conference co-leaders.
Marist (11-5, 5-1) hits the Gallagher Center for its first season meeting with Niagara (4-11, 2-4) this morning before heading to the Koessler Athletic Center at 3 p.m. Sunday looking to complete a two-game season sweep of Canisius (6-10, 2-5). The Red Foxes won the first meeting, 57-49, on Dec. 31.
Monmouth (4-13, 3-3) has the flip side, playing at Canisius this morning and at Niagara at 2 p.m. Sunday.