Titus Robinson came into his junior season at the University at Buffalo ready to roll. The most trying stage in his collegiate basketball education was behind him. He'd developed a keen understanding of what the Bulls want to accomplish on the offensive end of the floor. Now it was a matter of going out and doing it.
Robinson led the Bulls in scoring in a pair of exhibition games. But when the schedule commenced the points came in trickles, if they came at all. He went scoreless in the opener against Navy and was blanked again when Towson came to Alumni Arena two games later. Meanwhile, freshman Javon McCrea was contributing immediately and showing poise beyond his years. The onus was on Robinson to re-establish his value in UB's crowded low-post picture, which he's done emphatically of late.
The 13 points Robinson scored in a 79-47 rout of visiting Houghton on Saturday marked the third time in the last four games he's ascended into double figures. He went 4 of 5 from the floor as a follow-up to his 4-for-4 effort the previous game, against Wisconsin-Green Bay. The 6-foot-7 forward from Charlotte, N.C., has settled into a role after an early-season stretch during which he pressed to make an impact.
"When the season started I think he got anxious to show that, 'OK, now I know what's going on. I don't have to try to remember to do the right stuff. I know what's going on,' " coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "And he tried to score before he caught it. He's starting to slow down a little bit now. Sometimes his mind runs away from his body and he tries to do things too fast. When he slows down then we're fine."
"I agree with what he's saying," Robinson said. "That's pretty much what he's been trying to get me to do is just focus on taking my time catching the ball and just doing what I know how to do. Just taking my time, pivoting, and if it's not there kicking it out to my teammates."
Witherspoon used this game against Houghton, an NAIA school, to distribute playing time far and wide. Point guard Byron Mulkey and shooting guard Zach Filzen (game-high 21 points) were the lone starters to see more than 20 minutes. Freshman guard Corey Raley-Ross had 16 points in 23 minutes -- 12 minutes more than he'd played in the first nine games combined. Eleven players played at least 12 minutes as UB overcame a sluggish start to dominate the Highlanders (4-6) over the final 30 minutes.
Low-post play loomed as one of UB's strengths coming into the season as the triumvirate of Robinson, senior Jawaan Alston and junior Mitchell Watt returned from last year's 18-win team. But the Bulls got even deeper -- and the competition stiffer -- when McCrea emerged right from the outset. Robinson would either have to accept the challenge and elevate his game or run the risk of diminishing minutes.
"It's competition all the time," Robinson said. "He's a great player. I want him to come at me every day in practice, every chance we get because as he goes at me he's making me better."
UB made only two of its first seven shots in falling behind, 9-5, then went 37 of 46 from the floor the rest of the way in improving to 7-3 and running its winning streak to three. Houghton got 15 points and seven boards from senior guard Ryan Shay.
Now, UB goes from one extreme to the other. Next up is this season's premier game on the Big 4 scene: 16th-ranked Brigham Young's visit to Alumni on Dec. 30.