Defense and rebounding, parts of the game that appeared vaporous for the University at Buffalo through its first three games, returned in full bloom. Using a 10-day layoff between games to tweak their defense and rebounding, the Bulls pushed aside Robert Morris on Tuesday, 81-66, in front of 2,539 at Alumni Arena.
All five starters finished in double figures for UB, led by senior Javon McCrea with 18 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in 28 minutes. Sophomore guard Jarryn Skeete scored 15 points, 10 in the second half, while hitting 3 of 5 from long range.
Skeete took a nasty spill late in the contest and injured his left knee. He limped off the floor and the knee was heavily taped in ice afterward but he said he should be ready for the Bulls’ next game, Saturday against Delaware State.
Jarod Oldham had 13 points and a game-high seven assists, while Joshua Freelove added 12 and Will Regan 10. Regan, the Nichols School product, made just one field goal but was 8 of 12 from the line as the Bulls shot 25 of 39 from the charity stripe. But it was defense and their work on the boards that carried the Bulls (2-2) to their first win over a Division I opponent this season.
“You play defense, you get the stop and the rebound completes the stop and that’s the most important thing,” Skeete said. “If they don’t score and we keep scoring, we’re going to win the game.”
The Bulls held Robert Morris (3-4) to 38.2 percent shooting, including 34.6 percent (9 of 26) in the second half. They shadowed Karvel Anderson, who was 4 of 10 and 0 for 4 from three-point range, and UB coach Bobby Hurley credited the rangy Oldham with limiting Anderson to 11 points. Buffalo also outrebounded the Colonials, 45-32.
“We wanted to be more help-conscious and protect the paint better and I think we did that,” Hurley said. “Rebounding hurt us in the game against Niagara and got us down a bunch of points and we really cleaned that part up.”
McCrea said the intensity increased the last 10 days in practice.
“We haven’t started off with a great start this year and we wanted pick up on it,” he said. “We got a lot of rest and guys got treatment and we focused on the things we weren’t doing right. I think it was a great improvement.”
They also made a nice defensive adjustment on Lucky Jones, who scored 14 points in the first half but finished with 19. He took only six shots in the second half. And Jones had a lot to prove considering he played for Hurley’s father, Bob Sr., and UB assistant coach Eric Harrield at St. Anthony in New Jersey.
“He’s a guy who can make shots and he’s been in a lot of big games,” Hurley said. “He had an ax to grind with me and Coach Eric, being a former St. Anthony’s player and playing for my dad. I expected that type of performance from him. I thought we responded well.”
UB, playing for the first time since Nov. 16, when it defeated West Virginia Wesleyan, 80-60, began pulling away midway through the second half. The Bulls led 53-52 with 11:23 remaining when they went on a 13-0 run for a 66-52 lead after a jumper by Freelove. They led by as much as 20 points after a Skeete three-pointer with 3:34 left.
UB trailed 21-16 with 9:56 left in the first half when official Lamont Simpson turned to Hurley and said, “I’m done with your refereeing,” and issued Hurley a technical foul. After Anthony Myers-Pate and Anderson made two free throws each, the Bulls trailed 25-16, but the technical seemed to shake the sleepwalking Bulls.
Oldham popped in a trey on a open look, then Freelove soared in for a dunk. Oldham made two free throws and Regan added three more and the Bulls had a 26-25 lead.