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UB men’s NCAA hopes ride on three-point shooters

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The University at Buffalo hopes to keep its hot outside shooting going Thursday when it meets the ninth-ranked University of Miami in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Bulls are 13-point underdogs, and the best way to pull a tournament upset is to make a lot of shots.

UB was streaky at best at three-point shooting for most of the season. The Bulls ranked 10th out of 12 in the Mid-American Conference and 222nd in the nation in three-point percentage, making 33.1 percent of their shots.

But the Bulls have been consistently good behind the arc late in the season. In their last four games, counting their regular-season finale, they have hit 42.5 percent of their three-point shots. The No. 1 three-point shooting team in the country, Michigan State, makes 43.5 percent.

“It’s not what you’re doing in November, December and January, it’s what you’re doing in March,” said Miami coach Jim Larranaga. “They shot the ball pretty darned well in the MAC Tournament. They made, I believe, 11 threes in Game One, 14 threes in Game Two and 10 threes in Game Three, the championship. For our defense to be as good as it needs to be, we can’t allow them to go off from the three-point line.”

The post-season shooting wasn’t a total reversal of fortune for UB. The Bulls blitzed Delaware, Central Michigan, Toledo, Northern Illinois and Kent State (twice) with three-point shooting in the regular season. But the Bulls’ perimeter shooting wasn’t good enough overall much of the year. In a two-point loss to St. Bonaventure in December, for instance, the Bulls hit 1 of 13 from three-point range.

The good late-season perimeter shooting has coincided with unselfish play. The ball moved fast in the MAC Tournament, and a lot of UB’s threes were wide-open looks.

The three-point totals the last four games: 10 of 25 vs. Bowling Green, 11 of 25 vs. Miami, 14 of 27 vs. Ohio and 10 of 28 vs. Akron. That’s an average of 11.25 threes a game, which would rank fourth in the nation if it happened over the entire season.

“I kept feeding them confidence,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “Take open shots. Shoot it with confidence. Step into your shot. I thought we had shooters. For whatever reason, they struggled for awhile. We want our threes to be taken from lane penetration and kick-outs rather than just one pass, fire it up with a guy on you.”

“When you get in the lane, you collapse the defense,” Oats said. “Kick it out, you’re wide open. You’re stepping into it. It’s an easier three to make.”

“We preached moving the ball real well earlier in the season,” said UB guard Lamonte Bearden. “Now we’ve got guys buying in as the year went on, and it finally paid off in the MAC tournament.”

Freshman CJ Massinburg was UB’s most reliable three-point shooter during the season. He made 44 and shot 40 percent. Junior Blake Hamilton made 40 and shot 37.6 percent. Junior Willie Conner made 47 and shot 34.6 percent. Senior Jarryn Skeete made 60 but shot only 32.8 percent. Nick Perkins, a 6-foot-8 freshman, hit 20 threes the first 30 games. But he made 8 of 16 threes over the last four games.

The challenge for UB shooters against Miami will be the Hurricanes are faster and taller on the perimeter than MAC teams.

Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez is only 5-11. But off-guard Sheldon McClellan is 6-5 and small forward Davon Reed is 6-6. UB goes 6-3, 6-3 and 6-5 at the first three positions.