Just when UB appeared to find its stride, inclement weather threw a hurdle in its path.
A Friday night game against South Dakota State, the Bulls’ final tune-up before conference play, was postponed indefinitely because of travel issues involving the Jackrabbits. The Bulls haven’t played since a Dec. 29 win at Drexel, a layoff they could have done without heading into Wednesday’s Mid-American Conference opener against visiting Northern Illinois (if the Huskies make it here).
The Bulls went through their early schedule suffering the transitional pains that often accompany a coaching change. They hit bottom when Canisius smoked them in the second half of their Dec. 11 meeting at the First Niagara Center but showed signs of a resurgence with an 84-81 Dec. 21 overtime loss to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference favorite Manhattan in Brooklyn.
UB (6-4) then scorched a poor Binghamton team by 30 before opening eyes with the road win over Drexel, which had beaten Alabama and Rutgers. And now they wait.
“It’s frustrating because we had played very well versus Drexel,” UB coach Bobby Hurley said on Monday’s MAC coaches conference call. “Didn’t play the cleanest offensive game in the first half but we played by far our best defensive game. Even versus Manhattan we had a winning performance versus them, and Binghamton we really took care of them here, so we’ve been playing well, and when you’re playing well you want to keep playing.
“So it’s frustrating to lose that game but we’ve had great practices the last couple of days. Our guys are chomping at the bit to play.”
Northern Illinois (6-6) has struggled offensively and tends to favor lower-scoring games but ranks 42nd nationally in rebounding. If the Huskies are thwarted by the weather UB will go into Saturday’s home game against Eastern Michigan (8-5) off of two idle weeks, heightening the challenge of developing an offensive flow against coach Rob Murphy’s befuddling zone defense.
The MAC is awash with immediate-impact newcomers this year. UB senior guard Josh Freelove, a transfer from Alabama State, ranks second on the Bulls at 12.5 points per game. Toledo junior forward J.D. Weatherspoon, a transfer from Ohio State, averages 11.1 points and 5.8 rebounds while former Loyola (Md.) guard Justin Drummond averages 14.6 points and 2.5 assists for the 12-1 Rockets. But perhaps the most influential newbie of all is Ohio University’s Maurice Ndour, 6-foot-9 forward from Senegal who transferred in from Monroe College in the Bronx after playing his high school ball in Japan.
Ndour told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he eschewed offers from Big East and Conference USA programs because he felt that at Ohio he could play right away. He’s averaging 14.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and shooting 52.6 percent from the field, 77 percent from the line and 37 percent from three.
“When I went and saw him play with his junior college team you could see all the different things he kind of could do and how and how we needed a guy to fill that role,” Ohio coach Jim Christian said on Monday’s coaches conference call. “He’s been more consistent probably than I would have thought because it’s usually a bigger adjustment for those guys who went from junior college to playing the role that he has to play for our team.
“He’s versatile. He can play inside and outside. He’s a good rebounder, good finisher. He’s a good player and a very confident player, which you have to have, especially when you go into a new situation. You have to have confidence because it doesn’t always go your way. He’s handled those particular times with things haven’t gone his way, he’s handled those times very well.”
Ndour has four games of 20 or more points and six games of nine or more rebounds. He averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in play-up games against UMass and Richmond.
The life of Niagara guard Phil Scaffidi continues to resonate long after one of the better athletes ever to come out of Western New York lost his battle with cancer. Niagara announced Monday that it will honor Scaffidi’s memory by presenting Phil Scaffidi bobbleheads to the first 1,200 fans at Sunday afternoon’s game against Rider.
Scaffidi died on March 23, 1980, after captivating the region with a steely damn-the-disease resolve that earned him the Most Courageous Award from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. Diagnosed with cancer while captaining the 1978-79 Purple Eagles, Scaffidi returned to play six games during the following season, setting Niagara’s career assist record in the process.
Scaffidi entered Niagara after two season in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. A graduate of St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, he is a member of the Niagara and Greater Buffalo halls of fame.
Around the Big 4
St. Bonaventure rolls into Atlantic 10 play this week at 10-4 and on a three-game winning streak. Richmond visits the Reilly Center at 7 Wednesday night (if the Spiders make it) before the Bonnies head to New England for a Saturday afternoon clash with No. 19 UMass. Richmond ranks second among A-10 teams in scoring defense and is third in defending the three. Bona is tied for first in the conference with a plus-6.2 rebounding margin while Richmond is last at minus-5.1. The Spiders have one of the top guards in the A-10 in Cedrick Lindsey, a 6-1 senior averaging 18.6 points. He had 22 in last year’s overtime win over the Bonnies.
Canisius and Niagara, both already well into Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play, return home this weekend for Friday-Sunday games against Rider (7-6, 3-1) and conference newcomer Monmouth (7-8, 1-3). The Griffs were 9-5, 3-0 going into Monday night’s game against Marist, their best start since 1994-95 (5-0).
Niagara’s already back home after an 0-2 road trip to Rider and Iona that dropped the Purple Eagles to 4-11, 1-3.
Niagara’s Antoine Mason continues to top the nation in scoring at 28.7, four points better than Creighton’s Doug McDermott. Canisius guard Billy Baron ranks 16th at 21.3, fourth in free throw percentage at 92.6 and third in minutes at 38.2.