The burning question following the University at Buffalo's first two games was what's wrong with Mario Jordan and Yassin Idbihi?
Neither was much of a factor against Connecticut and Fairleigh Dickinson as Jordan shot 13 times and connected just once, while Idbihi played only 29 minutes because he was easily fatigued. Yet both played huge roles in UB's surprisingly painless 92-64 victory over Indiana State on Saturday at HSBC Arena.
Idbihi scored a game-high 22 points, one shy of his career best and added five rebounds. The 6-foot-10 sophomore also drained 3 of 5 three-pointers and ignited an early run. The 6-6 Jordan scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and added five assists. It was a textbook victory for the Bulls (2-1), whose backdoor cuts led to 23 assists and just nine turnovers.
"We've said all along that at this level you have to be ready to respond to adversity," said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon. "It came their way Tuesday (versus Fairleigh Dickinson) and (Idbihi and Jordan) responded (Saturday)."
The Bulls connected on 11 of their first 12 shots to pull out to a 26-11 lead after an Idbihi three-pointer off a pass from Jordan. They led by as many as 26 in the first half and 33 in the second while shooting .571 for the game against a team that held its two previous opponents to .404 shooting from the floor.
UB held the Sycamores to just five first-half field goals and .353 shooting for the game. The Sycamores went nearly 12 minutes in the first half without a field goal. Leading scorer David Moss, who was averaging 19.5 points per game, scored 16 on only 4-of-13 shooting.
"Our practices have been really intense and we've been focusing on our defense," said UB's Daniel Gilbert, who made 7 of 8 shots for 15 points. "We knew we had to step that up and that would flow into our offense."
This was supposed to be a much more competitive matchup. The Bulls were fresh off a come-from-behind 87-84 overtime win over Fairleigh Dickinson in which they were lackluster for most of the evening. The Sycamores lost at Indiana, 56-52, on Tuesday and outrebounded the Hoosiers, 33-28.
Yet on Saturday the Bulls played like the team expected to contend for the Mid-American Conference title, and the Sycamores looked more like the team picked to finish ninth in the 10-team Missouri Valley Conference.
"We couldn't guard them," said Indiana State coach Royce Waltman. "We defended pretty well the first couple of games but we couldn't guard (UB). We never could solve how to guard their handoffs and ball screens. We tried to beat them to the screen and they'd back cut and if we didn't, they'd come off it and penetrate. They did a good job of reading everything we tried to do."
So how does UB compare to Indiana?
"They're better," Waltman said. "We lost to IU by four points and should have won."
But UB rolled, thanks to an offense that looks so much better when Idbihi and Jordan are involved. In UB's victory over Fairleigh, Jordan didn't play in the second half or the overtime period and Idbihi sat for most of the second half because of unproductive play. Jordan was scoreless, going 0 for 5 from the field, while Idbihi was 2 of 6 from the floor and 5 of 6 from the free-throw line for 10 points. Jordan said his problems were mental.
"I'm not going to try and disguise it, I haven't been playing to my potential," he said. "My teammates got into me, the coaches got into me. I try to be one of the most energetic players on the team."
Idbihi's struggles were more physical. He reported to school at 278 pounds, nearly 30 over his playing weight from a year ago and he admitted it wasn't all muscle.
"Maybe I gained too much weight too quickly," said Idbihi, who now weighs 270. "I was so down on myself. I was in this slump for about a week, even before the UConn game. I was hoping by the UConn game I'd get out of it, but the UConn game was even worse and the Fairleigh Dickinson game put me even more down. I was like, 'Please, Indiana State, get me out of this slump.' "
UB sophomore forward and Indiana native Parnell Smith made his first appearance of the season and scored a career-high eight points in seven minutes before fouling out.