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Texas Connection comes through for UB men

The University at Buffalo’s West Texas twosome looked good in Tuesday night’s 99-79 rout of the University of Delaware.

Junior guard Willie Conner scored a season-high 23 points, and junior forward David Kadiri was a sparkplug off the bench with nine points and seven rebounds in just 14 minutes.

UB recruited both out of West Texas junior colleges with the idea they would make an immediate impact this season.

Conner is a Chicago native who played one year at Florida A&M, then spent last season at Odessa Community College, about five hours slightly southwest of Dallas.

Kadiri is a Maryland native who played one year at Maryland-Baltimore County then played last season at South Plains College, about five hours slightly northwest of Dallas.

“Willie and DK both have had their ups and downs a little bit through the beginning of the year, DK with some injuries and Willie not shooting the ball as well as he knows he can,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “I thought both of them came back after Christmas and have had three really good practices and really been zoned in. I was happy to see both of them play well.”

The win improved UB to 7-6. The Bulls will be off until they open Mid-American Conference play at home Tuesday against Akron.

The 6-foot-5 Conner is averaging 25 minutes and 9.6 points a game. UB is hoping he will be a zone-busting three-point shooter. He’s hitting only 30 percent from behind the arc so far. But Tuesday was his best game driving to the basket and defending.

“I think I missed my first three so I wanted to get everything going to the rim,” Conner said. “I had two-and-ones, and I saw that was working. So I wanted to keep doing that and then counter with my threes.”

“My main thing is just staying focused and keep building my confidence, because great shooters all got confidence no matter if they miss,” Conner said.

The 6-8 Kadiri missed four games due to a sore knee and has averaged 12.8 minutes a game. But UB is going to need him in MAC games to do some rebounding and defending, as he did against Delaware.

“Bring in energy and run the floor as hard as I can,” Kadiri said of his role. “Generate a fast-paced style, which is the style coach Oats likes to play.”

“I hope he can give us really good energy off the bench,” Oats said. “Block a shot. Spark us in transition, help us get an easy one. Get a steal. He’s not strong enough to wrestle with guys. But he can come from the back side and pin it on the glass or block it and send us the other way. He can get an O-board because he’s slithery. When we make some runs, he seems to be a common denominator in the middle of it because he’s playing so hard.”

Both Conner and Kadiri were recruited to UB by assistant coach Bryan Hodgson, who coached last season at Midland College, just across town from Odessa.

Conner and Kadiri went to West Texas because Odessa and South Plains play in one of the top junior college leagues in the nation. They wanted the best shot they could get at another Division I opportunity. It was a long way from home, but the plan worked for both.

“There’s nothing out there but oil,” Conner said of Odessa. “I know I didn’t play well at all,” at Florida A&M, “so I went to junior college to get my mind back right, get focused, gain confidence.”

“We basically had to fight our way through adversity in junior college,” Kadiri said. “So it’s good to have gone through that and to be here.”

UB got 20 points from guard Jarryn Skeete, 14 from freshman wing Kikola Rakicevic and 13 from freshman guard CJ Massinburg, who is from Dallas. UB had 21 assists on 33 field goals.

UB wing Blake Hamilton sat out with a concussion. UB forward Raheem Johnson missed his fourth game with a stress fracture in his foot with no timetable set for his return.