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Bulls outlast Griffs, 98-96, in OT thriller

The University at Buffalo and Canisius put on an offensive show Saturday afternoon that should leave fans of both basketball teams encouraged about the prospects for this season.

UB won in overtime, 98-96, in a game that saw 11 players score in double figures and both teams race up and down the court, windshield-wiper style, to the enjoyment of 3,112 fans at Alumni Arena.

UB sophomore point guard Lamonte Bearden made the decisive play of the game, dribbling out of a trap and whipping a 25-foot pass to wide-open freshman Nick Perkins for a dunk with 4.7 seconds to play.

Canisius almost won it in regulation, going on a 9-0 run to take an 87-84 lead. But UB senior Jarryn Skeete hit a clutch three-pointer with 6.8 seconds left to force OT.

“Eighty-seven points?” said UB coach Nate Oats. “I’m thinking about how many we gave up, not how many we scored. ... But Monte made an unbelievable pass to finish the game, and Perk closed it for us. It was a good win.”

“We don’t have any problem scoring,” said Canisius coach Jim Baron. “We’ve got to defend and we’ve got to rebound.”

Scoring was a question mark for both teams entering the season.

UB lost 50 points a game from last year’s offense with the departures of Justin Moss, Shannon Evans and others.

This year’s team is compensating with balance. Bearden had 18 points. Perkins and fellow freshman CJ Massinburg had 15 apiece. Two junior-college transfers, Willie Conner and Blake Hamilton, had 14 apiece. Skeete had 12.

UB outscored Canisius, 48-21, in bench points and 64-38 on points in the paint.

“I think we’ve got some guys who are stepping up,” Oats said. “Blake Hamilton played great. CJ played great. Nick Perkins played great. Willie Conner had a pretty good game. You’re talking about four new guys who weren’t even in the program last year. We’re trying to give them as much confidence as we can.”

With seven new players seeing key minutes, UB’s offense is bound to be a work in progress.

“We’re starting to move the ball better,” Oats said. “We really struggled against Old Dominion, and against St. Joe’s. It’s gotten progressively better. We’re learning where guys are going to be on drives. We’re learning how to share the ball a little better. We’re trying to get to 20 assists. We got to 15. That’s better than six, like we were getting at the beginning of last week.”

Canisius, meanwhile, lost leading scorer Zach Lewis to transfer.

But new guard Malcolm McMillan, a graduate student transfer from Central Connecticut, has more than made up for Lewis’ loss. McMillan is averaging 24 ppg. He scored 16 on UB.

The Griffs were led by guard Kassius Robertson, who had a career-high 24 points and hit 5 of 10 three-pointers. Robertson made the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference all-rookie team last year and looks like he’s ready for a big sophomore season.

The Griffs also got 16 apiece from forwards Phil Valenti and Jeremiah Crumpton and 13 from forward Jamal Reynolds.

Both teams shot 48.6 percent from the field.

UB’s defense, particularly at guard, was a little better than that of Canisius. The Bulls had 12 steals and forced 19 turnovers. Bearden had four steals.

“We say that defense gets you open shots, the shots you want to shoot,” Bearden said.

“Very careless,” Baron said. “We’re not like that. We’re usually very solid with the ball.”