University at Buffalo forward Nick Perkins carries plenty of weight on his shoulders.
After winning the MAC Sixth Man of the Year last season, he's expected to move to a full-time starting role and excel. That's not just a standard his coach put on him, but all the coaches in the MAC. The Ypsilanti, Mich., native is one of two Bulls picked to the Preseason MAC East first-team.
He has to help make up for the loss of two of the Bulls scoring leaders from last season, Blake Hamilton and Willie Conner, without his fellow MAC East preseason first-teamer, CJ Massinburg, at full strength. He'll take plenty of the blame if the team doesn't meet its goals, too, as the Bulls are the favorites to win their division.
Saturday, Perkins proved he's worthy of the burden placed on him in a hard-fought 80-75 victory against Canisius. If the ball was in the paint, odds were the 6-foot-8 junior was right there making plays.
Perkins scored a career-high 26 points, grabbed six rebounds and sent the crowd into a frenzy with a block in the final minutes. He was in a groove from the start, scoring the Bulls first seven points.
Defensively, he flipped the script on Canisius's Jermaine Crumpton, who tormented the Bulls for 31 points in last year's overtime victory for the Golden Griffins. Perkins followed Crumpton the entire game and erased any memory of last year. The Canisius forward shot 3 for 11 from the field and only 1 for 6 from 3-point range, scoring nine points.
Crumpton's dominance last year stuck with Perkins.
"Perk's been studying (Crumpton), maybe for a year now," UB coach Nate Oats said.
"Knowing he liked to shoot threes ... that was a big part of my game, just trying to take him off the 3-point line," Perkins said. "Force him to drive."
Crumpton didn't get on the scoreboard until he hit his lone 3-pointer with 12:24 remaining in the first half.
"They didn't really leave me," Crumpton said. "I feel like I settled a lot today."
Perkins led the charge for a dominant Bulls front court that accomplished all three of Oats' goals for the opener: Win the rebound battle by 10, double Canisius up in offensive boards and hold Crumpton under 10 points.
UB bested Canisius in rebounds by exactly 10, recorded triple the amount of O-boards as the Golden Griffins and kept the opposing star quiet.
Even with UB's dominant post numbers, poor shooting kept Canisius in the game. The Bulls shot 34 percent from the field in the second half, which allowed the Golden Griffins to take five-point leads twice in the final eight minutes of the game.
Canisius had a chance to steal a road win, but misses and mistakes down the stretch did the Golden Griffins in.
Takal Molson (25 points) had a chance to give Canisius a two-point lead with 1:14 left in the second half, but missed a free throw. After UB took the lead on the ensuing possession, Bulls point guard Davonta Jordan picked Malik Johnson's pocket and sailed in for a transition layup to give UB a three-point lead.
The Griffs had a final chance to tie the game down three points with 15 seconds remaining. Johnson set up the offense for a last-ditch effort to send Canisius-UB to overtime for a second straight year.
"We were organized," Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "We practiced that situation and didn't want to take a timeout."
Just when Johnson started to initiate the final play, he committed the most untimely misstep of them all. He slipped and, with UB's Jayvon Graves playing him closely, lost control of the ball. It slowly dribbled out to the baseline, and with it went Canisius's hopes for victory. UB added insurance points from the free-throw line to seal the game.
The Canisius mistakes finally caught up to them on a day when they committed 19 turnovers.
"You can have a couple of those if you're taking care of the ball the other times," Witherspoon said. "We didn't."