When Javon McCrea became the University at Buffalo’s career scoring leader in Saturday’s breakthrough win at Kent State, he fulfilled all the promise evident in his debut game as a Bull.
McCrea stepped onto the floor for the first time on Nov. 13, 2010, during a landslide victory over Navy. He scored 14 points. He pulled down 10 rebounds. And he did it all in 13 minutes. At the age of 17.
He was deft with his right hand, and maybe even more so with his left. His ball-handling skills and floor vision defied the norm for someone 6-foot-6 with wide shoulders typical of an NFL linebacker. Who could help but wonder how he slipped through the wide-ranging recruiting nets cast by the major conferences and ended up at UB after graduating from Newark High School.
The thought during his freshman year was that McCrea still had a growth spurt coming his way. Just look at the breadth of that wingspan and the size of those hands. He could end up 6-8, 6-10, maybe beyond. Imagine if that happened.
But McCrea never sprouted the way many envisioned. He still stands 6-6, although now stronger and leaner. His growth is measured not in inches but in points, rebounds, assists and blocks and the per-game averages go like this:
Freshman: 11.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 1.7 assists.
Sophomore: 14.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 1.9 assists
Junior: 18.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 2.0 assists
Senior to date: 18.9 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 2.1 assists
With 1,920 career points, McCrea ranks 10th in the country among active Division I players. He and Alex Francis of Bryant, also a 6-6 senior, are the only ones in the Top 10 without a slew of threes to their benefit. Bryant has made 13, McCrea zero. Everyone else in the top 10 has cashed at least 180.
Although he’s on a mission to make at least one trey in his career, it’s entirely possible McCrea will reach 2,000 career points with nothing but deuces and free throws. Which brings up another growth area. McCrea shot 50.7 percent from the foul line as a freshman, 55.9 percent as a sophomore, 70.8 percent as a junior and 68.9 percent so far this season.
His other national career rankings among active players: Third in field goals, fourth in double-doubles, eighth in rebounds, ninth in blocks and 16th in field goal percentage. He’s one of just four active players with 1,500 points and 600 rebounds and is 52 rebounds shy of becoming only the 21st player since 1998 with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds (Niagara’s Juan Mendez accomplished the feat in 2005).
McCrea went for 31 and 11 Saturday in UB’s first-ever win at Kent State, a victory that put the Bulls a game up in the East when Akron fell to Ohio U. later that night. But it’s the overall standings that matter and it’s a five-team race for the four byes to Cleveland. Toledo and Western Michigan are 11-3, UB 10-4, Ohio U. and Akron both 9-5.
Remaining schedules for the contenders:
UB: At Ohio U., vs. Miami, at Akron, vs. BG
Toledo: at NIU, vs. WMU, at CMU, vs. EMU
WMU: at Ball State, at Toledo, vs. NIU, at CMU
Ohio U.: vs. UB, vs. Kent, at BG, at Miami
Akron: at Miami, vs. BG, vs. UB, vs. Kent
Canisius (19-10, 13-5) will finish no lower than fourth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and is assured a bye into the conference tourney quarterfinals a week from Friday in Springfiled, Mass. Niagara (6-23, 3-15) will finish anywhere from ninth to 11th and play a pre-quarterfinal next Thursday.
Canisius closes out the regular season Friday at Rider (13-14, 9-9) and Sunday at Manhattan (20-7, 13-5). Niagara is at Monmouth (10-19, 4-14) on Friday and at Saint Peter’s (11-16, 7-11) on Sunday.
In the A-10, Bona (16-11, 6-7) plays at La Salle (12-14, 4-8) on Wednesday in what could be a preview of a conference tournament quarterfinal. The Bonnies are eighth in the conference, 1½ games out of seventh, and LaSalle sits ninth, 1½ games ahead of the No. 10s. If the Bonnies and Explorers finish in the 8-9 slots they’ll meet March 12 in Brooklyn for the right to meet No. 1-seeded Saint Louis.
Bona is home Saturday to face second-place Saint Joseph’s (19-7, 9-3) at 3 p.m.
St. Bonaventure (21-8, 10-4) probably needs a strong stretch run and deep A-10 tourney showing to pull out an at-large bid to the NCAAs. Although tied for second in the conference, the Bonnies are No. 62 in the RPIs and behind three other A-10 teams: first-place Dayton (No. 17) and No. 4s Fordham (No. 59) and Duquesne (No. 61).
Bona has a second-place showdown with visiting George Washington (19-8, 10-4) Wednesday and will complete the regular season on Saturday at La Salle (12-14, 7-7).
In the Mid-American, UB (15-10, 8-6) and Toledo (12-12, 8-6) are tied for fourth overall with the Bulls holding the tiebreaker advantage based on a Jan. 15 win over the Rockets. That No. 4 spot carries a bye straight to Cleveland and dodges the dread five-game burden to win the title.
Here’s one way to look at it: If UB beats a trio of 3-11 teams (Ohio U., Miami and Kent) and loses to 11-3 Akron, and Toledo beats three teams below it in the standings (Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Ball State) and loses to 13-1 Central Michigan, the Bulls finish fourth. The key for UB could be this week’s road games at Ohio U. Thursday and Miami Saturday.
In the MAAC, Canisius and Niagara enter the final week in a three-way tie for sixth with Manhattan (all 7-11). The Griffs and Purple Eagles both get Fairfield (14-4) and Rider (9-9) at home. Manhattan has Saint Peter’s (2-16) and Quinnipiac (13-5). What’s for certain is that Canisius and Niagara both will open the MAAC Tournament a week from Thursday with pre-quarterfinals.
Quinnipiac came through WNY and pushed its winning streak to seven games with the help of a missed foul that freed Umar Shannon for the buzzer-beating 50-footer that downed Niagara. The Bobcats continued to astound with their rebounding numbers. They lead the nation in all three categories — margin, offensive rebounds and total rebounds — and pulverized Canisius and Niagara by a combined 100-56.
The Bobcats have big-shouldered inside presences in 6-9 Ousmane Drame and 6-7 Ike Azotam, but coach Tom Moore said rebounding is ingrained in the culture of the program.
“We do a lot of it in practice and it’s hard to do, especially when you’re banged up, and we’re really banged up right now,” Moore said. “We’re down to seven scholarship guys, eight scholarship guys. But we try to do it every day. Some days we do 20 minutes of it, some days we do five minutes of it. We teach it and it’s the one thing our guys realize they’re probably going to get yanked out of the game if they don’t do.
“Like John Chaney at Temple, his bugaboo was turnovers. Anybody on his team turned it over, they were coming out. Or certain guys, if you turn down a shot and they want you to shoot, they’ll take you out. Our guys pretty much know if they whiff on a boxout or if they don’t crash, they’re coming out.”
Men: Bona 86, Canisius 99, UB 106, Niagara 295.
Women: Bona 62, UB 127, Canisius 246, Niagara 256.