There figures to be some long nights for the University at Buffalo basketball team this season.
But no matter what happens when they get into the teeth of their first year through the Mid-American Conference grind, the Bulls will have fond memories of some November gut-checks.
UB squeezed out a 49-48 win over Canisius Tuesday in its home opener at Alumni Arena to even its record at 2-2. Of greater significance is the fact a team boasting eight freshmen and sophomores owns a pair of one-point victories.
The Bulls, who posted a 64-63 triumph last Tuesday at Cornell, are apparently too young to know you're supposed to endure heart-wrenching losses before taking these kind of games.
"It's great for our morale and confidence, but we have to keep it in perspective," said coach Tim Cohane. "It's so early in the season and I'm sure the next time we play Canisius (Dec. 12 in Marine Midland Arena), it will be a different story.
"But I'm excited about the fact the fans who came to see the new players for the first time will see these guys play hard like their predecessors and we'll get a following."
"That's a big bonus," added sophomore point guard Ryan Peterson. "We really didn't close them out the best we could have (going scoreless for the final 3:50), but we did get the win . . . Winning close games at the end is a key no matter who they're against."
A smallish crowd of 1,852 (students are on Thanksgiving break) saw UB allow the game's final seven points. The Bulls survived when Canisius senior Jamie Cammaert dribbled the ball off his foot and recovered it in time to fire only a wild 25-footer that missed at the buzzer.
The Bulls roared to a 12-2 lead and were up, 21-10, midway through the first half. Their offense then went AWOL, hitting on just five field goals over the next 22 1/2 minutes.
Canisius, however, wasn't much better. The Griffs (1-1) couldn't take full advantage of UB's drought as they clawed ahead but never led by more than three points.
The Griffs didn't hit a field goal in a nine-minute stretch of the second half, and UB capitalized with an 8-0 run to take a 49-41 lead. Cammaert then scored the Griffs' next five points and Dale Sawyers' layup with 37 seconds left pulled Canisius within one.
Sawyers, however, blew a chance to tie the game when he missed a free throw that could have turned his basket into a three-point play. After a missed free throw by UB's Alexei Vasiliev, Keith Lambkin missed from in close and Cammaert couldn't connect from downtown.
UB's offense was essentially a two-sophomore attack. Guard Louis Campbell collected 18 points, while center Nikolai Alexeev tied his career high with 14 points and grabbed a career-best eight rebounds. Campbell and Alexeev combined to hit 14 of 24 from the field. The rest of the Bulls were just 6 for 26.
Canisius, meanwhile, hit just 18 of 54. Point guard Kevin Worley had 14 points, while Cammaert chipped in 12. Lambkin was limited to four points on 1-for-10 shooting.
Peterson didn't score, but held UB together in crunch time. He had five assists, two rebounds and just one turnover in 35 minutes.
"To win at the end like that I have to attribute a lot to the fact Ryan is the type of guy who can go in and glue together any five players," Cohane said. "If he went down to Delaware Park and took four players with him, they would play like a team."
The loss was disappointing to Canisius coach Mike MacDonald, whose team was coming off the emotional high of its season-opening win at St. Bonaventure.
"I hate to say it but I kind of had a feeling it was coming by the way we had practiced the last couple of days," MacDonald said. "I thought we got a little bit full of ourselves. That's unfortunate, but it's part of the learning process."
The Griffs will have to stew over the loss for 10 days, as they are off until hosting Metro Atlantic power Iona Dec. 4 in the Koessler Center. UB returns to action next Tuesday at Manhattan.