Earlier this week, University at Buffalo coach Nate Oats said he worried about his team starting the season slow like they did last year. The Bulls' opener against Canisius was far from perfect, but he can at least cross a first-game letdown off his list of fears.
The Bulls pulled out a tight 80-75 victory against the Golden Griffins Saturday despite shooting 34 percent in the second half and going long stretches without a basket. The Bulls' offensive struggles kept the Golden Griffins in the game, as Canisius was up five with four minutes remaining and up a point in the final minute.
It took a devastating Canisius turnover with a chance to tie and the shot clock off to help move the Bulls to 1-0.
Central Perk: The Bulls scored 44 points in the paint, good for 55 percent of their scoring. Nick Perkins was key in that aspect, successfully utilizing a 2-inch and 30-pound advantage on Jermaine Crumpton while scoring a game-high 26 points. He had a handful of game-altering plays around the basket, most notably a bank shot from the left post to give the Bulls a 75-74 lead with 54 seconds remaining.
Not scoring in mass: Perkins needed a career day to make up for the lack of production from UB's other MAC East first-teamer, CJ Massinburg. He shot 3 for 11 for eight points. Oats said he's not 100 percent and is still wearing a knee brace.
Air Jordan: Davonta Jordan had his best game as a Bull, scoring a career-high 16 points on 7 for 8 shooting and 2 for 2 from 3-point range. He also had a handful of vital defensive plays, including a drawn charge with the Bulls down one in the final five minutes.
"He spent hundreds, thousands of hours in the gym this offseason working on his jumper," Oats said. "It paid off."
Prep talk prowess: Takal Molson, the former St. Mary's/Lancaster star, showed no signs of nerves in his first game with Canisius. He set a program record for points in a true freshman debut, scoring 25 on an efficient 9 for 13 from the field. The 6-foot-5 wing was able to get to the basket often by using his excellent cutting ability.
"Coach gives me a little bit of freedom to play aggressive," Molson said. "I think that's what the team needs."
Stuck to the bench: D.J. Heath played only two minutes in his Canisius debut. The freshman point guard has an impressive high school resume and was ranked the 27th-best player at his position in the 2017 recruiting class by ESPN and Scout.
"He'll be fine," Witherspoon said. "We're settling into some things rotation-wise. We have a long way to go."
Player of the game: Perkins scored a career-high 26 points in addition to six rebounds and a block.
What's next: UB will stay at home to play Jacksonville State Wednesday before heading to the Cayman Islands Classic. Canisius starts the Men Against Breast Cancer Showcase when it faces Air Force on the road Tuesday.