The University at Buffalo held a tenuous three-point lead with just under five minutes remaining against Eastern Michigan but momentum had clearly shifted toward the Bulls. It was nail-hammering time and Shannon Evans, UB’s animated freshman guard, took full advantage.
The 6-foot-1 ball of energy assisted on a three-pointer by Jarryn Skeete, whipped passes to Javon McCrea and Jarod Oldham for buckets, then went solo by draining one from long distance in front of the Bulls bench. Evans’ play helped create some breathing room and eventually led to a 76-66 victory for the Bulls in front of 2,616 Saturday afternoon at Alumni Arena.
UB improved to 8-4 overall and has its first 2-0 start in Mid-American Conference play since 2009-10. The Bulls are also a perfect 6-0 at home this season.
The Bulls took another step in legitimizing their MAC title hopes by winning their fourth consecutive game with Toledo, another potent West Division foe, on deck Wednesday on the road.
Also a MAC contender, Eastern Michigan’s non-league schedule was filled with highly regarded opponents – including second-ranked Syracuse – so the Bulls passed a critical early-conference test against a quality opponent.
On a day when Eastern Michigan’s 2-3 zone made McCrea work for every one of his 10 points and 11 boards, others were required to step to the forefront. That included Skeete, who scored 19 points and four rebounds off the bench, and Oldham and Will Regan with 11 points each.
It also included Evans, who finished with five points, five assists, two steals and just one turnover in 22 minutes.
“He got into the paint, drew the defense and was able to drop the ball off and hit some critical interior passes,” UB coach Bobby Hurley said. “He played solid defense throughout the game like he always does and he hit a big three in the corner that was really a momentum play. We had everything going and it was one of those shots that’s a dagger-type three and he delivered it.”
Said Skeete: “He played fearless and him getting into the lane caused people to suck onto him and drawing so many players. He had the vision to kick it out. In transition we were getting stops and he was flying down the court and making plays.”
When asked about his bold approach to the game, Evans smiled and said, “That’s just in me. I really don’t care who I’m playing against, I’m going to try and be the best.”
Hurley felt the Bulls were too submissive against the Eagles’ (9-6, 1-1) uncompromising zone in the first half but that changed in the second half once Evans found his way into the lane.
“We were being lazy, not really being aggressive but at halftime coach told us to attack and be aggressive,” Evans said. “My shot was off so I tried to get to the rim and create for others so I just tried to get into the lane and look for other players.”
He seemed to find Skeete quite often. The Bulls trailed, 55-53, when Skeete lined up for a three-pointer and was fouled by Raven Lee, who closed out too late. Skeete said he got popped in the mouth but if this were the NBA he would have been fined for flopping.
“Coach said with the new rules to just go down and I did,” Skeete said. “It worked.”
Indeed it did. Skeete hit all three free throws before Mr. Evans’ opus that helped the Bulls build a 12-point lead with 1:22 left after two free throws by Oldham, who also finished with seven assists.
email: rmckissic @buffnews.com