Buffalo (6-7, 0-0 MAC) at Toledo (7-6, 0-0 MAC)
January 3, 2017
Savage Arena - 6:00 pm
Radio - ESPN 1520-AM WWKB
Television - American Sports Network/ESPN3
The Opening Tip...
• The Bulls will begin defense of their Mid-American Conference title on Tuesday night when they travel to Toledo to open league play. It will be the first time since 2002-03 that Buffalo will begin MAC play inside a West Division arena. These two teams split last year's series with the Bulls winning 73-68 at Savage Arena. Blake Hamilton led the Bulls with 17 points in that victory.
• Buffalo has won 7 of its last 12 games played at MAC West schools dating back to the start of the 2013-14 season. The Bulls have also won three of their last four games at Savage Arena dating back to the 2009-10 season. UB is 7-11 all-time in MAC openers, winning two of their last three.
• Through the end of non-conference play, the Bulls are averaging 40.5 rebounds per game. Buffalo has not averaged over 40.0 rebounds per game for entire season since 2011-12 and UB has done it just twice since 1993-94. UB is currently in the top 30 nationally in rebounds per game and defensive rebounds per game.
• Toledo completed non-league play with a 7-6 record and the Rockets are currently riding a three-game winning streak following a 98-58 win over Ohio Christian on Friday night. Toledo is in the midst of a five-game homestand. They are currently 5-1 at Savage Arena this season. Last year, the Bulls and Rockets split the season series, both winning on each other's home floor.
• Toledo has three players averaging double figures, led by Jonathan Williams, who is averaging 19.8 points per game. Nearly half of his shots have come from behind the arc. Steve Taylor Jr. is averaging a double-double for Toledo as he has 15.9 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per contest, which is amongst the MAC leaders. Jaelan Sanford chips in 13.0 points per contest.
• Toledo is in the top 30 nationally in defensive rebounds per game, averaging 28.92 per game. That is paced by Steve Taylor Jr., who is first nationally in defensive rebounds per game at 9.67. Taylor has already recorded 10 double-doubles on the season, which leads the MAC and is third nationally, just one behind the national leaders.
• Tod Kowalczyk is in his seventh season as head coach at Toledo. He led the Rockets to a MAC West title in 2012-13. He came to Toledo following a successful stint at Wisconsin-Green Bay. Kowalczyk's tenure in Green Bay produced an eight-year run of success that saw the Phoenix post a 136-112 (.548) win-loss mark, including a pair of 22-win campaigns in his final two seasons. Kowalczyk spent 13 years as an assistant at five different institutions with his final stint coming at Marquette.
Bulls Begin MAC Title Defense Tuesday Night
The Bulls begin their MAC title defense on Tuesday night when Buffalo opens Mid-American Conference play against Toledo. The Bulls are coming off consecutive league tournament titles and are trying to become the first MAC school ever to claim three straight automatic bids into the NCAA Tournament.
Buffalo is 7-11 all-time in MAC openers, but have won two of their last three. UB last opened league play on the road in 2014-15 when the Bulls came away with a 79-72 win at Miami (OH). Buffalo has won three of their last four games at Savage Arena dating back to 2009-10.
For the first time since the 2002-03 season, the Bulls will begin Mid-American Conference inside a MAC West arena. That year, the Bulls played Bowling Green when the Falcons were still in the West Division. With a trip to Eastern Michigan on Saturday, this will mark the first time since the Bulls have joined the MAC that they will open conference play with two consecutive road games against cross-league opponents.
The last time the Bulls opened conference play against the West was during the 2013-14 season when the Bulls hosted Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan in the first two games of MAC play. Buffalo went on to win both of those contests.
3-Peat After Me
The Bulls are looking to do something that no Mid-American Conference school has ever accomplished and that is win three straight MAC Tournament titles. Buffalo has already become the first team since Kent State to go in back-to-back seasons when the Golden Flashes did it in 2001 and 2002, but a third straight trip would make conference history. No Big 4 school has gone to three straight NCAA Tournament since Canisius in 1955-57.
Buffalo is one of only five programs to have won conference titles in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 joining Hampton (MEAC), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley), Kentucky (SEC), and Gonzaga (WCC). Of that group, Gonzaga is the only one to have received three straight automatic bids into the NCAA Tournament.
For The Record
Buffalo had one of its best three-point shooting days in school history on Dec. 10 in its 87-52 win over Coppin State at Alumni Arena. The Bulls went 15-of-30 from behind the arc with six different players hitting at least one three pointer. The 15 triples are the second most in school history in one game and the most since Buffalo had 14 last season in the semifinals of the MAC Tournament against Ohio. The only time UB had more than 15 threes in a game was back on Feb. 22, 1996 when it had 18 against Troy State.
Individually, senior Willie Conner hit a career-best eight three points, which is tied for third most in a single game in school history and the most since Shannon Evans had eight against Cornell on Jan. 3, 2015. Second place belongs to hall of famer Mike Martinho, who had 10 three pointers in that record-breaking game against Troy State. Eric Moore holds the school record of 11 set in 2007 against Bowling Green.
For The Record...Part Deux
The Bulls had quite the historical evening during their home-opening victory against Nazareth. In the 85-38 win, UB allowed its fewest points in a game since Feb. 1, 1979 against Fredonia State. The Bulls also allowed 47 points fewer in the win over Nazareth than they did three days earlier at Xavier. The 47-point margin between two games is Buffalo's largest since the 1987-88 season when they allowed 125 points to St. Anselm in the season-opener and followed that up by allowing just 67 points in the next game against Queens College.
Easy Blake Oven
Senior Blake Hamilton begins his final season after being one of five players named to the All-MAC East Division squad in the preseason. Hamilton was named to the All-MAC Third Team last season and enters 2016-17 as the Bulls returning leading scorer and rebounder at 13.7 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per contest. Hamilton had a stellar first season with UB in 2015-16, but it will be his shot at the end of the MAC Championship game that will always be remembered by Bulls fans.
Hamilton missed most of the preseason due to a broken non-shooting hand, but he returned to the starting lineup for the regular season opener at Niagara where he had 11 points, eight rebounds, and five assists in 26 minutes of action. Hamilton recorded a career-high 11 assists in the win over Nazareth, the most by a UB player so far this season. He then showed his scoring touch in the opener of the Great Alaska Shootout with a career-high 36 points against Alaska-Anchorage, including 29 of those in the second half. The 36 points are tied for 10th in school history for a single game and the most since current teammate CJ Massinburg had 36 last season against Ohio. The 36 points are also tied for eighth most in a single game in the 38-year history of the Great Alaska Shootout. Hamilton added 23 points and eight rebounds in the win over Weber State and he led all scorers in the Great Alaska Shootout field. Hamilton added 21 points against Creighton and 20 points at St. Bonaventure and he scored over 20 points in four of the six games on the previous road trip. Hamilton had his first double-double of the season against Canisius as he finished with 19 points and a season-high 11 rebounds. He led the Bulls in scoring for the sixth times and had his fifth 20-point game against Robert Morris on Dec. 21.
Senior Willie Conner was named the MAC Tournament Most Valuable Player and was also named to the newly created All-Defensive team following his junior season. Conner also transferred in after playing his freshman season at Florida A&M and his sophomore year at Odessa Community College. In addition to his defensive prowess, Conner was also a dynamic three-point shooter for the Bulls as he hit 48 of them last year, including six in the MAC Quarterfinal win over Miami (OH), scoring 25 points.
Off the floor, Conner continues to be one of the top team leaders for the Bulls and he has been UB's team representative for its relationship with Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization that helps children forget about their illness and become part of something bigger, a team of friends.
Conner was one of the most productive players for the Bulls in the season-opener as he led the Bulls with 20 points, including four three-pointers. His four point play late in the second half clinched the game for Buffalo. In the Great Alaska Shootout opener, Conner had 12 points ans five assists, but it was his strong defense that helped shutdown Alaska-Anchorage's top player as Sekou Wiggs went just 3-of-18 from the field. Conner added 21 points against Creighton, the second time this year he hit the 20-point mark, and the first since the season opener. It has been five straight games where Conner has been given the defensive assignment of the opposing teams top player. On Saturday, he held St. Bonaventure's leading scorer Matt Mobley to just nine points, the first time this season Mobley failed to enter double figures.
Conner regained his scoring touch in the win over Coppin State as he tied his career-high with 28 points in the victory, hitting a career-high eight three pointers, tied for the third most in school history.
Nick of Time
Another sophomore that had an outstanding first season for the Bulls was Nick Perkins, who continued to improve during each game of the 2015-16 season, culminating in his season-high 20 points in the NCAA Tournament game against Miami (OH). Perkins became the first ever UB player to score 20 points in an NCAA Tournament game and most of that was thanks to his career-high four three pointers in the contest.
In the exhibition win over Daemen, Perkins had 25 points, including eight of those coming in the overtime period. Seven of those points came in a row, capped off on a dunk in which he was fouled and completed the four-point play. He had 11 points and eight rebounds in the opener at Niagara. Perkins led the Bulls with 15 points and seven rebounds against nationally-ranked Xavier. He recorded 21 points in the win over Nazareth, adding eight rebounds and a career-best four blocked shots. Perkins recorded his first career double-double, and the first by a UB player this season, on Saturday night with 18 points and 10 rebounds against Weber State. Perkins established a new career high in scoring on Saturday afternoon at St. Bonaventure with 24 points, going 10-of-15 from the floor and tying his career high with four three pointers. Perkins followed that up with 23 points at ACC foe Pittsburgh, going 11-of-18 from the floor. The 11 field goals for Perkins were a career high. Perkins had his second double-double of the year against Robert Morris as he finished with 10 points and a season-high 11 rebounds.
It was a successful first year for sophomore CJ Massinburg, who was named to the All-Freshman team following his first year in the Blue and White. Massinburg proved early that he belonged, scoring a team-high 25 points in the exhibition contest against Daemen a year ago. His best game came against Ohio in February where he recorded 36 points vs. the Bobcats, the highest point total by a Buffalo player last year. His 396 points scored last year were the second most ever scored in a season by a UB freshman.
Massinburg made his regular season debut on Dec. 7 at Pittsburgh after missing the first eight games of the season due to mononucleosis. He made the most in hist return with 14 points, three rebounds, and five assists in 25 minutes off the bench. Massinburg rejoined the starting lineup for the first time this year and had 15 points and three assists in 22 minutes. Massinburg logged the most minutes of his career in the overtime loss to Canisius as he played 42 minutes, finishing with 16 points and five assists. He added 15 points coming off the bench in the win over Maine.
The Bulls have three players on this year's team, who all played against each other during the 2014-15 Junior College year in NCJAA Region 5. Senior Willie Conner played at Odessa Community College, while fellow senior David Kadiri spent the year at South Plains Community College. The newest addition is redshirt sophomore Dontay Caruthers, who played his freshman year at Midland College, where he played under current UB assistant coach Bryan Hodgson. Kadiri had the best season of the bunch as he helped lead his squad to a national runner up finish. He had 13 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocked shots in that national championship game.
The Bulls have brought in an impressive freshmen class this year, including the services of point guard Davonta Jordan out of Cocoa, FL. He was the ninth best player in the state of Florida and the 30th best point guard nationally. Jordan played at Montverde Academy, which has produced a number of NBA Draft Lottery picks, including the first overall pick in this past year's draft Ben Simmons, and previous picks D'Angelo Russell (2nd Overall) and Joel Embiid (3rd Overall).
Jordan started the season-opener for the Bulls and he was impressive, finishing with six points and seven assists in 23 minutes. The seven assists were the most in a season-opener by a UB player since Alexi Vasiliev had 10 against the Purple Eagles on Nov. 19, 1999. Jordan had a team-high six assists off the bench in the win over Alaska-Anchorage. Jordan tied his career high with seven assists on Friday night against Nevada, recording six of those in the first half. Jordan recorded a new career high with 10 assists against Creighton, becoming the first UB freshman with 10 assists in a game since Lamonte Bearden did it against Cornell on Jan. 3, 2015. Jordan re-entered the starting lineup against St. Bonaventure and recorded career highs in points (9) and rebounds (6), while adding seven assists. As of Dec. 15, Jordan was tied for 20th nationally with 58 total assists, fourth amongst freshmen. He is the only freshman from the MAC in the top 20.
Raheem The Dream
The Bulls will welcome back one of their top shot blockers this season in redshirt senior Raheem Johnson, who missed nearly all of 2015-16 due to a foot injury, playing in just one game. During his first season with the Bulls in 2014-15, Johnson led the Bulls in blocked shots with 37, including a career-high four blocked shots against Kent State on Feb. 28, 2015.
The return of Johnson will give the Bulls a big rim protector that they missed last season. Johnson has picked up his scoring as of late, culminating with a career-high 14 points at nationally-ranked Creighton on 7-of-9 shooting. Johnson followed it up with 12 points against St. Bonaventure on a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor. He finished 19-of-24 (79.2%) from the field during the six games of the road trip. He tied his career high with seven rebounds off the bench against Robert Morris.
Home Sweet Home
Despite not seeing much of Alumni Arena for the early part of non-conference season, the home arena has been a friendly one for the Bulls. In the three plus years since Nate Oats has been associated with men's basketball program, the Bulls are 37-9 at Alumni Arena. In fact, the Bulls are 89-28 inside Alumni Arena since the 2008-09 season and going back even further, UB is 138-46 at home since the 2004-05 season.
Another highlight to the UB freshmen class is power forward Quate McKinzie out of Burgaw, NC. McKinzie, who was named the Coastal Rivers Conference Player of the Year following his senior season, was ranked as the 11th best player in the state of North Carolina and the 42nd best power forward nationally.
McKinzie was solid in his debut off the bench with 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting. He added four rebounds, two assists, and three blocked shots. He finished with nine points against Nazareth, going a perfect 3-of-3 from behind the arc. McKinzie has converted on 10 of his first 11 shots this season, including 5-of-6 from three point range.
McKinzie has hit 20 of his first 23 shots from the floor in his career, including a 4-for-4 performance against Maine.
Another newcomer that made a solid debut was redshirt sophomore Dontay Caruthers who had four points, three rebounds, and a team-high three steals, including a crucial one in the final 40 seconds of play. Caruthers picked up his first career start against Nazareth and also started in the Great Alaska Shootout opener against Alaska-Anchorage. He recorded a career-best seven points against Nevada, including his first career three-pointer. Caruthers had a huge defensive performance against Maine, as he was credited with drawing four charges.
Caruthers, a Rochester native, played his freshman season at Midland College before spending last season at Indian Hills Community College. However, he was injured and missed the year.
The Bulls finished in third place at the Great Alaska Shootout with a 2-1 record over their three contests in Anchorage. Senior Blake Hamilton led all scorers in the field averaging 24.3 points per game. He had a career-high 36 points against Alaska-Anchorage, tied for the eighth most in the 39-year history of the tournament.
Sophomore Nikola Rackicevic, known affectionately by his teammates as Johnny, played in 20 games during his freshman season, scoring a career-high 14 points against Delaware. Rackicevic has been one of the bigger surprises for the Bulls, shooting the ball extremely well both over the summer on the foreign trip to the Bahamas, but also in the early part of this preseason. He has appeared in seven games this year, having his best game of the year against Maine with five points off the bench.
This season, Rackicevic changed his number to #42 in honor of his mother, who passed away unexpectedly during his freshman season.
Last season, Nate Oats led the Bulls to an average of 77.4 points per game their highest scoring average since 1975-76. In fact, of the top 10 scoring seasons, only two of them have come since 1994-95 and the 2,709 points scored by Buffalo last season were the most scored in the 99-year history of the program.
This summer the Bulls went on a foreign trip to Toronto and the Bahamas, getting 10 extra practice in over the summer and playing in four games. UB began the trip with an 84-76 win of the University of Guelph and then defeated York University, 87-69, before moving down to the Bahamas where they played two more games.
Buffalo defeated the College of Bahamas 81-67 before ending the trip with a 113-73 win over the Real Deal Shockers. All of the Bulls saw action during the foreign trip except for Davonta Jordan, who was a late addition to the squad this summer.
NCAA programs are allowed to take a foreign trip once every four years.
Bulls Sign Three To National Letters Of Intent
Head men's basketball coach Nate Oats has announced that three players have signed national letters of intent to play at Buffalo during the 2017-18 season during the early signing period:
Jayvon Graves (6-3, PG, Akron, OH)
Jeremy Harris (6-7, Wing, Greensboro, NC/Gulf Coast College)
James Reese (64, SG, Columbia, SC)