LEWISTON, NY – The University at Buffalo men's basketball team went on 15-3 run over the final four and a half minutes on Friday night, defeating Niagara, 76-66, in the season opener for both teams. It was the first time that the Bulls had won their road opener since 2009-10.
Buffalo got out to a slow start in the contest as the Bulls turned it over six times in the first five minutes and Niagara took advantage, opening a 15-6 lead with 12:32 left in the opening half. The Purple Eagles continued to lead by nine with 5:51 left when the Bulls scored seven straight points, capped off on a fast-break layup from redshirt sophomore Dontay Caruthers, cutting the Niagara advantage to 26-24. The two teams played even for the final 4:19 of the half as the Bulls went into the break down, 33-31.
UB came out in the second half and outscored Niagara, 45-33, as the Bulls recorded just six second half turnovers, while also shooting nearly 61% from the field over the final 20 minutes. Four quick points to start the half gave Buffalo its first lead at 35-33 and a three pointer off the bench by freshman James Jones increased the UB lead to 53-45 with 12:47 left.
The Purple Eagles then went on a 13-4 run as a three pointer from Matt Scott gave Niagara a 58-57 lead with 7:08 remaining. Niagara continued to lead 63-61 after a pair of free throws when the Bulls answered with their game-ending run. Senior Willie Conner got it started with a three pointer, the first of 11 straight UB points. Freshman Quate McKinzie had a layup in the run and then Conner delivered the backbreaker, a four-point play with 2:37 left, giving UB a 70-63 lead. McKinzie had back-to-back baskets after that, as a fast-break dunk with 1:01 left gave Buffalo its largest lead of the game at 74-64. UB would go on to win by that same margin, 76-66.
"I thought it was a tough, hard fought win and Niagara competed really hard," said head coach Nate Oats. "We had to figure some different lineups out tonight and I thought Davonta gave us great minutes, he just has to learn to play without fouling. We definitely had some guys step up and I was really happy with Quate's play, but we have a few guys that need to play better. However, for the first game of the season, on the road, we will take the win for sure."
Conner led the Bulls with 20 points, going 4-for-6 from behind the arc. McKinzie added 13 points in his regular season debut, going 6-of-7 from the floor, while adding four rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots.
Despite being hampered by foul trouble, freshman Davonta Jordan, who picked up the start in his debut, finished with six points and seven assists in 23 minutes before fouling out. Redshirt senior Raheem Johnson added six points off the bench, including going 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
In all, nine different Buffalo players found the scoring column, including four points and three steals for Caruthers.
The Bulls finished the night with 20 assists, while Niagara assisted on just five baskets tonight and turned it over 16 times.
UB shot 52.7% from the floor, outscoring Niagara 42-24 in the paint.
The Bulls will remain on the road Monday night when they travel to nationally-ranked Xavier for a 7:00 pm contest that will air nationally on CBS Sports Network.