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UB clamps down on Ball State’s top scorer in win

Jarryn Skeete decided to assert his senior leadership after he and his University at Buffalo teammates were blown out at Western Michigan Saturday.

Skeete told the UB coaches he wanted to take on the No. 1 defensive assignment in Tuesday’s game against Ball State by guarding junior Ryan Weber, who was averaging 14.8 points a game.

“I said if somebody’s going to beat us, I’d rather it be on my back than a junior, sophomore or freshman,” said Skeete.

Skeete answered his own challenge by holding Weber to three points in UB’s 76-64 victory. Weber was held without a field goal and was forced into five turnovers.

UB’s defense forced Ball State into 19 turnovers overall and just 4 of 18 shooting (22.2 percent) from three-point range. Ball State entered the game leading the Mid-American Conference with a 41.3 percent three-point average.

The victory improved UB to 11-9 overall and 4-3 in the MAC. Ball State dropped to 13-7 and 4-3.

Skeete is a capable defender, but he’s not UB’s defensive stopper. Willie Conner and CJ Massinburg arguably have been UB’s two best defenders this season.

Yet UB coach Nate Oats deferred to his senior co-captain.

“It wasn’t what we had in mind initially for the matchup,” Oats said. “He asked for it. He asked our video guy, Tom Fox, to put together all of Weber’s made field goals from the last six games and send them to him. He studied it. He watched them all, and he held the kid to no field goals.

“I think when your senior captain does that, it’s big.”

UB lacked defensive energy at Western Michigan and fell behind, 17-2, en route to a 91-71 loss.

“I told the guys for the rest of the year we’re never going to have the coaches come at us and say our effort wasn’t there,” Skeete said. “I feel like skill-wise, player for player, we’re the best team. So once we give the effort our skill will take us the rest of the way.”

Skeete is UB’s only senior starter, and he has exhibited leadership numerous ways this season.

The Brampton, Ont., native averaged 9.1 points last season and ranked 13th in the MAC in three-pointers made as UB’s designated perimeter-shooting off-guard. He took 7.7 shots a game.

This year he has focused on being a facilitator for the offense and not tried to force shots, even though he’s the veteran leader. He’s averaging 9.3 points and taking 8.7 shots a game.

Skeete was recruited to UB as a point guard. He was the No. 2-rated point guard in Canada in the 2012 high school class. It’s not his nature to hog shots, even as the off-guard.

“I’ve never been one to force it,” he said. “My true position is a pass-first point guard. So I’ve never been one to come out and jack shots, jack shots, because if I start doing that, other guys fall into the same trend and we lose. So if I show willingness to share the ball first, in the end it’s going to come back to me and we’ll all hit more shots because the ball’s moving better.”

The ball moved well for UB against a Ball State team that ranked second in the MAC on defense.

Point guard Lamonte Bearden had 18 points, forward Blake Hamilton had 14, and Skeete and Conner had 12 apiece.

A Skeete strip of Weber with 2:10 to go sealed the win. Weber tried to back Skeete into the low post, but Skeete took the ball away and fired a long-bomb pass to Bearden, who converted a three-point play that gave UB a 70-59 lead.

A crowd of 3,522 at Alumni Arena saw Bearden play a sensational game. He hit 8 of 14 shots and produced six assists, four steals and just two turnovers.

“I thought he made the game hard for us, not as much with his half-court defense but his full-court defense,” said Ball State coach James Whitford of Bearden.

“I thought that impacted us as much as anything because it really took us out of rhythm on offense.”

UB outscored Ball State, 40-26, in the paint and 24-10 off turnovers.

UB’s next game is Saturday at Toledo.