University at Buffalo men’s basketball is truly firing on all cylinders.
The Bulls are 3-0 in the Mid-American Conference heading into Saturday’s home matchup with the Miami RedHawks (9-7, 2-1). They’ve won their last two games in dominant fashion, defeating Ball State by 20 on Saturday and Akron by 22 on Tuesday.
The conference opener was closer, a 10-point deficit, but the Bulls put up the program’s second highest scoring output in a MAC game and highest in regulation in a 104-94 win against Toledo.
It’s the first time UB has started the conference slate with three straight victories since 2010.
“You can’t do anything better than win,” UB coach Nate Oats said. “We’ve got a long season ahead of us, but it’s certainly a great start to it.”
The Bulls’ numbers are flattering on both ends of the court. Offensively, UB is 37th in the country and first in the conference in scoring offense, averaging 83 points per game.
The offense has been balanced, as five players reached double-digit production in each of the past two games.
The defense initially appeared to be an issue after allowing 94 to Toledo, causing Oats to openly worry in UB’s postgame press conference. Becoming a more balanced team became a focal point.
“I told them, ‘We play defense against Ball State the way we did against Toledo, there’s no way we’re going to get a win,’” Oats said. “They kind of answered the bell.”
The Bulls bounced back, holding Ball State and Akron under 70 points. The team was at its best in the first half against Akron, only allowing the Zips to hit three shots from the field before the break. Akron’s starters combined for one point in the first.
Oats said the defensive improvement started with guard Davonta Jordan, who has limited his matchups’ production. He held Ball State’s Tayler Persons to eight points, six below his season average, and Akron’s Malcolm Duvivier to seven points, seven below his average.
When you factor in the Bulls are without the injured Dontay Caruthers, the MAC’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, UB looks scary going forward.
“Once we get him back, that will bring our defense to a whole new level,” Oats said.
Guard Jeremy Harris has stepped up for the Bulls recently, tying for the team lead in scoring against Ball State (16 points) and Akron (17) and making an impact on the defensive end. He’s been awarded the team’s hard hat after both outings, earned by racking up deflections, rebounds, steals, blocks and taken charges.
“He’s such a good kid. He always wants to please the coaching staff,” Oats said. “When you’re doing that kind of stuff you’re usually scoring a lot because you’re playing the game the right way.”
Miami entered the season with low expectations, as the RedHawks were picked last in the MAC East in the preseason poll. They’ve surprised early in the conference slate, defeating Kent State and Bowling Green and narrowly losing to MAC West favorites Western Michigan.
“They really should be 3-0,” Oats said. “Western’s experience just got them at the end. ... We’re going to have our hands full.”
Miami guard Darrian Ringo is Jordan’s latest challenge. The 6-foot-2 junior leads the MAC in assists per game (8) and steals per game (2.6) and is fourth in assist/turnover ratio.
Freshman guard Nike Sibande leads the RedHawks with 13.9 points per game.
Miami does a good job defending the perimeter. The RedHawks are ranked second in the conference in 3-point shooting defense (42 percent).
Tipoff for the Bulls’ first of two straight home games is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Alumni Arena.