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UB notebook: Miami center Jekiri could be tall order for Bulls

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – University of Miami senior center Tonye Jekiri is a big concern for the University at Buffalo entering Thursday’s first-round NCAA Tournament game.

Jekiri is 7-feet tall and 248 pounds. He made third-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference after averaging 8.0 points and 8.9 rebounds a game.

A big part of UB’s offensive success is predicated on driving the ball to the basket. But Jekiri is a better rim protector than anyone UB faced in the Mid-American Conference.

“They’re a lot bigger at every position,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “If Jekiri is able to sit in the middle of the lane and just block shots all night – and not that he’s even a big-time shot blocker but he affects everything in there – then we’re going to be in trouble.”

UB’s two freshman big men, 6-8 Nick Perkins and 6-10 Ikenna Smart, will be charged with facing Jekiri.

“We’ve got to find ways to draw him out of the lane,” Oats said of Jekiri.

Using Perkins or Smart to set ball screens on the perimeter is one way to try to do it.

Jekiri’s ability to prevent second-chance baskets is a concern, too. Miami ranked sixth out of 15 in the ACC in defensive rebounding.

“They’re not just big, they’re athletic,” Oats said. “You watch some of the personal highlights, it looks like an NBA highlight film on some of these guys. They’re long, they’re athletic.”

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Miami’s star guard Sheldon McClellan is an NBA draft prospect and is the 10th most efficient offensive player in the nation, according to the analytics site kenpom.com. McClellan has posted the 14th best shooting percentage among the nation’s guards (50.0).

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Miami coach Jim Larranaga was happy to be playing in Providence because he starred at Providence College from 1967 to ’71.

“I used to eat at the Newport Creamery, which is basically a place for hot dogs and hamburgers and shakes,” Larranaga said. “And the shake was called the Awful Awful, the awful thick, awful good, and I kind of lived on those in college.”

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Oats initially got hired by UB because of his relationship with the Hurley brothers, Bobby and Danny. When Oats coached at Romulus High School in Michigan, Danny Hurley recruited Oats’ best player, E.C. Matthews, to Rhode Island. Danny Hurley and Matthews will be attending Thursday’s game.

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Larranaga on comparing UB to teams his Hurricanes have faced:

“I think the University at Buffalo is similar to us in that they utilize ball screens a lot, and the team in our league that does that a lot is Virginia Tech.”

“But I also think their tempo is very, very fast, similar to a team in our league, Wake Forest, who runs a lot.”

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com