Bobby Hurley and Chris Casey, two first-year coaches, receive their initiation into the Big 4 tonight.
The returning players have briefed both on the rivalry so all that’s left is the tip-off between the University at Buffalo and Niagara University in the Gallagher Center (7 p.m., Radio 1520 AM). The Purple Eagles lead the series, 58-32.
They’re also coaches trying to secure their first win at their new schools. UB and Hurley were blown out at Texas A&M last Friday, 82-58, while Casey’s Niagara team fell to Seton Hall on Saturday, 83-72.
“Locally between us, Canisius, Niagara and St. Bonaventure, just the local flavor of that is amped up I would think in the community,” said Hurley. “To a degree it should remind me of my playing days.”
Hurley chuckled when reminded that UB-Niagara is not quite on the magnitude of Duke-North Carolina, but there are local bragging rights to be earned nonetheless.
“I don’t know if we could ever bring it to that point but I know our players are excited to play,” Hurley said. “I would assume that Niagara, playing very competitively against Seton Hall and being their first home game of the year, are going to be jacked up and excited to play.”
While Casey respects the rivalry he’s more concerned about how his team prepares for UB.
“You go through the film and try and pick and choose what you think you need to be able to go on, individual tendencies you need to take away,” Casey said.
“What you can do on offense that you feel like you can do well and then you work on those things in practice.”
UB would love to forget about what happened down in Texas. Senior point guard Jarod Oldham picked up his third foul nearly two minutes into the second half and the Bulls trailed by two points with 12:23 left when senior big man Javon McCrea picked up his fourth. The Aggies were able to tuck away the Bulls with a 29-6 run.
“As soon as me and Jarod got into foul trouble, the team’s confidence went down a little bit,” McCrea said.
The Bulls shooting percentage certainly plummeted. UB trailed by only 54-52 with 11:35 left, then scored only one field goal the rest of the way. Hurley said UB depended too much from beyond the arc (7 of 23) and overall the Bulls shot just 31 percent.
“When you’re on the road, you can’t make that many mistakes on offense,” Hurley said. “With all that being said, we were still in a position to be in the game with 12 minutes left.”
Meanwhile, who can forget the Niagara-Seton Hall game? Apparently officials took to heart the NCAA new rules regarding hand checking and called a whopping 73 fouls – an average of nearly two a minutes – and players marched to the free-throw line 102 times. Of the 23 players who entered the game only the Purple Eagles David Varoli wasn’t called for a foul, probably because he played only two minutes.
“No comment,” Casey said, laughing.
Of course, there are benefits to shooting a ton of free throws and junior guard Antoine Mason, who scored nearly half of Niagara’s points, cashed in. Mason went to the line 20 times and made 15 while scoring a game-high 34 points.
But Casey seeks more diversity which will be key against a deep Bulls team. Marcus Ware was the only other player in double figures with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Take away the contributions of Mason and Ware and the rest of the Purple Eagles combined to shoot 6 of 23 overall.
“We don’t want to be a one-man show,” Casey said. “I think Mase does a good job of trying to balance that and having other guys involved. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well.”
Said Mason: “We have to execute. Get back on defense and then execute on offense.”
Meanwhile Hurley would like to run but recognized early the advantages of dumping the ball inside to McCrea, who had 14 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.
“We have to convert and not rely on the jump shot as much and try and get the ball inside a little more” he said.
UB women on road
Back in their Mid-Continent Conference days, the University at Buffalo and Youngstown State were big rivals in women’s basketball. They faced each other three times in the conference tournament, including the 1996 title game, with the Penguins winning each time.
Tonight in the Beeghly Center in Youngstown, the Bulls (1-0) and Penguins (0-1) will meet for the 25th time. YSU owns a 13-11 advantage in the all-time series including a 60-50 win at Alumni Arena last season.
Youngstown State went 23-10 in 2012-13 and that performance earned coach Bob Boldon the top job at Ohio University. His replacement is John Barnes. The Penguins lost their opener to VCU, 85-66. Forwards Heidi Schlegel (career-high 27 points) and Latisha Walker (18 points, 10 rebounds) stood out in the loss.
Mackenzie Loesing had 16 points and Margeaux Gupilan had 15 in UB’s 65-47 win at Binghamton last Friday.