Bobby Hurley acknowledged after the 76-66 victory over Eastern Michigan on Saturday that UB’s greatest strength can be his biggest headache. The very thing that should allow him to sleep peacefully is also capable of keeping him up all night while he contemplates his options.
The Bulls have a terrific player in Javon McCrea, their leading scorer and one of the best low-post players in the conference. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward is effective on both ends of the floor and for years has been their most dependable player. If the senior develops a respectable outside shot, he’ll play for pay next season.
McCrea is not the issue.
UB is loaded with interchangeable guards in Jarod Oldham, Josh Freelove, Jarryn Skeete and Shannon Evans. All four are quick and athletic, and have similar styles. They’re more comfortable and most effective with the ball in their hands. All can run the show. Each has proven he can take over any given game.
So what’s the problem?
“It’s a good problem to have,” Hurley said. “It’s just having enough basketballs to keep everybody happy.”
Oldham and Freelove started off against Eastern Michigan, but it was Skeete and Evans who finished off the Eagles in Alumni Arena. The latter two came off the bench and took over, allowing the Bulls to pull away in the final six minutes and win their second straight conference game.
Long before he arrived at UB two years ago, Skeete knew plenty about the basketball-to-talent ratio. He grew up in Toronto and spent three years playing AAU ball with the top players in Canada. Looking at where some of his former teammates ended up, UB looks like a step down.
Anthony Bennett was taken first overall in the NBA draft last year by Cleveland. Kansas star Andrew Wiggins is expected to be a lottery pick. Negus Webster-Chan played one year for Missouri before transferring to Hawaii. Another teammate was Tyler Ennis – not that one – who is now a key player for Syracuse.
“I’ve been playing with high-level players all of my life,” Skeete said. “I played before every coach in the country. I play every game as hard as I can and like it’s my last game. I’m going to make things happen.”
Of course, it’s difficult to make things happen, as he said, from the bench. That’s where Skeete found himself after committing a critical foul late in regulation in an overtime loss to Manhattan. The same player who scored 17 points in a win over St. Bonaventure scored only 12 in a five-game stretch before Saturday.
Skeete had a miserable game in the loss to Canisius, which exposed UB with a zone defense that put pressure on the perimeter and collapsed on McCrea. Skeete was held scoreless in that game after missing all eight shots. He had one bucket against Manhattan, two free throws against Binghamton and a three-pointer in a win over Drexel as his playing time dwindled.
It was all forgotten Saturday when he led the Bulls with 19 points, including four three-pointers, and no turnovers in 27 minutes. He’s a dangerous shooter when he’s in rhythm, but it’s hard for anyone to find a groove with spotty playing time. He emerged after Hurley inserted him into the second half against Eastern Michigan.
Skeete made three straight free throws after following Hurley’s direction and falling back on a long-range attempt. He sold the foul, a borderline call at best, and calmly gave UB a 56-55 lead with 5:29 remaining. He buried a three-pointer on the next possession and put the game away with another with 2:11 left.
“Jarryn is a really good player and has been a really good player,” Hurley said. “That’s what I’ve been seeing on the practice floor. He’s had his individual games where he played well this year. But I know how talented he is, how capable he is. I’m not surprised by his scoring numbers. He’s buying into doing everything we need him to do to win.”
UB managed to win on an afternoon when McCrea was largely ineffective on the offensive end, at least by his standards. He still finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three blocked shots. McCrea looked uncharacteristically timid in the first half against Eastern Michigan’s 7-foot center Da’Shonte Riley.
The Bulls attacked Eastern’s zone the way teams should. They moved the ball quickly, forcing the Eagles to play defense harder and longer than they wanted. They were patient and unselfish and poked holes into the zone for easy baskets. They eventually wore down the Eagles late in the second half.
Skeete and Evans are pushing Oldham and Freelove, both seniors, for more playing time. Evans played only 22 minutes, but he had five assists after penetrating the zone and either kicking the ball outside or finding McCrea inside. UB outscored Eastern Michigan by 24 points with Evans in the game and 18 with Skeete in the game.
Freelove played only eight minutes in the second half. The Bulls were outscored by 13 points with him in the game. Freelove is their second-leading scorer and has hit double-figures in all but three games this season. He’s deserves playing time, too. Hurley could have a tough time managing minutes.
UB could play with three guards at the same time, but it comes at the expense of size. It limits their offensive options and creates a greater challenge with defense and rebounding. It poses a different set of problems and potential headache for Hurley.
But given the way UB played Saturday, something tells me he slept just fine.