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UB defense under the gun in Big 4 showdown at Bona

St. Bonaventure’s 102-71 victory over Central Michigan 10 days ago was an eye-opener for University at Buffalo basketball coach Nate Oats.

Even though Central Michigan is picked for last in the Mid-American Conference, Oats knows it is not a bad team.

“If you look at their other scores, they’ve been playing all right,” Oats said. “Central beat Green Bay at Green Bay, and Green Bay was in the NCAA Tournament last year. To beat Central by 30 is a pretty big statement.”

The UB defense will be put to a test Saturday when the Bulls visit St. Bonaventure at 4 p.m. Bona is averaging 82.5 ppg, and UB’s offense is depleted by the loss of its second best scorer, guard C.J. Massinburg. He came down with mononucleosis just before the start of the season and might miss another couple weeks.

“If we don’t play defense we’re in trouble, because they can put points up with anybody in the country,” Oats said. “You win with guards at this level, and their guards are really good.”

Even without Massinburg, however, UB (4-3) should be a challenge for Bona (4-2). The Bulls are expected to be one of the top four teams in the Mid-American Conference. They went to Alaska last week and beat Weber State, which is picked to win the Big Sky Conference. And the Bulls had a decent showing in losing at 10th-ranked Creighton on Tuesday. UB was down only three with 14 minutes to go before falling, 93-72. Creighton is the sixth-ranked scoring team in the nation.

“It’s kind of like when we were up on Kentucky and up on Wisconsin at the half,” Oats said of big non-conference losses two years ago. “We were within two of Creighton. You kind of prove to yourself we can play with these guys. I just think we ran out of gas. But we got a lot better over those four games on our road trip.”

The defense of UB’s young guards will be particularly challenged. Bona is led by superstar point guard Jay Adams (21.1 ppg) and new shooting guard Matt Mobley (22.6 ppg), the transfer from Central Connecticut.

Massinburg is UB’s best on-ball perimeter defender. But UB has added two young guards who are off to good starts -- freshman Davonta Jordan and sophomore junior college transfer Dontay Carruthers. Those two figure to rotate on Adams.

“Devonta is starting to figure stuff out,” Oats said. “Carruthers has really come around defensively. He’s still got some work to do on the offensive end. But he plays so hard on defense, it’s hard to keep him off the floor.”

“These guards are as good as we’re going to see in our league,” Oats said. “We saw some good guards in Alaska. Nevada has a really good guard. Weber State has a good guard. Creighton has good guards. We’ve been seeing some high-level guards. I think those games will help prepare us for Bonnies, and Bonnies will help prepare us for the conference season.”

UB will need good games from its top offensive players – wings Blake Hamilton and Willie Conner and 6-8 forward Nick Perkins – to hang with the Bonnies.

Like Siena, which gave Bona a good game Wednesday, UB has the size to rebound with the Bonnies. Bona beat Siena, 81-74.

“They’re well coached, really athletic and they play hard,” Bona coach Mark Schmidt said. “They push the ball. Transition baskets are critical. They have athletic kids and good size inside, so it should be a game that’s very similar to the Siena game.”

Massinburg is awaiting clearance from doctors to resume working out. It’s possible he could be back to face Canisius on Dec. 17. UB remains hopeful he will be back to full speed for the start of conference play.

Meanwhile, Oats said freshman forward Quate McKinzie is doubtful for Bona due to a concussion. He was averaging 18 minutes over the first five games before being injured.

Email: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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