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Bulls run away from Niagara

Xavier Ford provided the shot-in-the-arm factor for the University at Buffalo for the second game in a row Friday night.

Ford, a 6-foot-7 senior role player, came off the bench to score 11 points and grab 13 rebounds as the Bulls routed Niagara University, 88-62.

It was the first career double-double for Ford, and it was another signal he has a key role to fill on the UB team.

The Bulls started off a little sluggish against Niagara, just as they did in Tuesday night’s win over Drexel.

Ford scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half against Drexel to steady the UB ship. A crowd of 2,702 at Alumni Arena saw him do a similar thing against Niagara, getting nine points and eight rebounds in the first half. Ford’s back-to-back early buckets – on a bank shot in the lane and a rebound slam dunk – seemed to slap the UB team to attention after a sloppy first four minutes.

“I’m as happy for X as anybody in terms of how he’s playing,” UB coach Bobby Hurley said. “There’s no one that deserves it more. He’s had a tremendous attitude from Day One with me. He does so many things that contribute to winning. … Just his energy he brings, his defense, blocking shots around the basket, his athleticism.”

UB improved to 7-2 and is off to its best start since 2005. Niagara fell to 1-7.

Ford was recruited by former UB assistant coach Jim Kwitchoff out of Colorado Springs, Colo. He came to UB a lot more athletic than skilled. He was raw on offense. And UB has had good players in the frontcourt ahead of him. Last year he averaged 13.5 minutes, 4 points and 3.2 rebounds a game.

This year he is the No. 1 backup at the power forward position, and he can play the small forward spot when UB wants a big lineup.

“We ask him to bring energy and rebound,” Hurley said. “His rebounds per minute are outstanding this year.”

He’s averaging 18 minutes, 5.7 points and 7.1 rebounds. If he comes close to those numbers for the whole season, he would be a major asset.

“You’ve got to find ways to help the team win, and I try defensively and getting rebounds,” Ford said. “I try to tell myself to at least get 10 to 11 rebounds a game. That’s always my goal. This game I told myself I was going to get 17, so I came up short. But I’m going to get 17 before it’s all said and done.”

“X is very versatile,” Hurley said. “I could play him with a lot of different lineups. When he’s on the floor, our team becomes the best defensive team that I can put on the floor.”

Hurley praised Ford for the number of days this summer he was in the gym at 6 a.m. working on his shot. Time will tell how much offense he can produce.

“We’ve got a lot of talent across the board … but when I have to revert to scoring I can do that too,” Ford said.

UB had too much class in the backcourt and too much size in the frontcourt for Niagara’s young, undersized squad.

The Bulls’ best player, 6-7 Justin Moss, scored 24 points, 20 in the second half. UB got 20 points and eight assists from sophomore guard Shannon Evans and 17 points from junior guard Jarryn Skeete.

UB outrebounded the Purple Eagles, 48-27, outshot them, 50 percent to 36 percent, and outscored them from the foul line, 27-15.

“We gotta score,” said Niagara coach Chris Casey. “You can’t keep putting pressure on your defense to get stop after stop after stop and then not score.”

Niagara’s next game is Tuesday at home against Arkansas State. UB has eight days off before its next game, at fifth-ranked Wisconsin on Dec. 28.