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Freshman Perkins gives UB fans more reason to get excited

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Freshman forward Nick Perkins gave University at Buffalo fans more reason to get excited about the future Thursday night.

Perkins, a 6-foot-8, 260-pounder, scored a career-high 20 points in UB’s loss to the University of Miami in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The performance capped a strong closing stretch of the season for the Detroit native. Perkins had 14 points and five rebounds in UB’s upset of Ohio in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament. In the MAC title game, he hit a key three-pointer and played stellar second-half defense on Akron’s big man, 320-pound Isaiah Johnson.

“What you saw today was kind of what I envisioned when we recruited him out of Michigan,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “I knew he could make open threes, big guy, can go inside and outside, both.”

“His progression over the last month in practice has been huge,” Oats said. “He was big for us last week.”

Perkins averaged 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds a game on the season.

The game plan against Miami was to have Perkins draw Hurricanes center Tonye Jekiri out toward the perimeter. Perkins hit two three-pointers in the first four minutes and was 4 of 6 from three-point range. He was 6 of 12 from the field for the game and he grabbed six rebounds.

“We had put in a new package,” Oats said, “and we put in three new plays for this game to kind of get Nick the ball, popping out. . . . Two out of the three worked the first time we ran them. We got threes off them, which is big. You’re able to open up a lead early on them.”

“I can say it was the preparation the last few days, working with coach in practice, working on my three, being more consistent with it,” Perkins said. “I felt that prepared me well tonight.”

Said Miami coach Jim Larranaga: “I asked my players after the game, have we ever played a team this season that had a 5-man that shot threes? And the answer was no. We didn’t face a 5-man that made threes. . . . We were hoping he would miss early on. He didn’t. That required a lot of adjustments by us.”

Perkins and David Kadiri also did a reasonable job of defense on Jekiri, who averaged 8.0 ppg. Jekiri scored just four points in 16 minutes of action, as Miami opted to go with a smaller lineup against the smaller UB front line.

No. 14 upsets: Over the previous three years, No. 14 seeds have four upsets and eight losses against No. 3 seeds. From 2007 to 2012, No. 3 seeds were 23-1.

Experience edge: Only one of UB’s top six scorers is a senior. Four of Miami’s top six are seniors. Larranaga has to compete with Duke, which has attracted “one-and-done” NBA prospects. Miami has not attracted such players but has compensated by relying on experience. Miami’s leaders, Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez, are fifth-year seniors. They transferred from Texas and Kansas State, respectively. Miami ranks 33rd in the nation in experience, according to the analytics site UB ranks 255th of 351 in overall roster experience.

Question of pace: On paper, UB had an advantage over Miami playing up-tempo. UB ranked 25th in the nation in pace of play, averaging 73 possessions per 40 minutes. Miami ranked 278th in the nation, averaging 66.8 possessions per 40 minutes. Miami was reluctant to get into an up-tempo games against some of its ACC competition, such as fast-paced North Carolina, ranked third in the nation. But Oats acknowledged Miami clearly had the athleticism to run with UB.

“We’re not going to slow it down because that’s not the way we play,” Oats said. “We’re going to wait and see if we win that way with them. We’re not going to win a slow-down game. I don’t have Justin Moss to punch the ball into every time down the floor, so we’re going to have to figure it out. Now, we don’t want to get into run, run, run, dunk, dunk, dunk, because we can’t win that. But we’re going to push it and take good shots.”

Bonus time: Like all Division I coaches, Oats has bonuses written into his contract for post-season success. Oats makes a base salary of $250,000. Winning the MAC Tournament gave him a bonus of 1-12th of his annual salary, which amounted to $20,833. UB’s assistants got a similar percentage bonus. Oats also has a potential for a bonus based on home ticket sales.

Oats’ predecessor, Bobby Hurley, also had a base salary of $250,000, and he also got additional compensation of $50,000 a year. Hurley got two bonuses last year of $20,883 because UB won both a share of the MAC regular-season title and the MAC Tournament title. However, UB’s athletics department made money when Hurley left to take the job at Arizona State. Hurley had to pay UB a $525,000 buyout payment for leaving with four years to go on his contract. That buyout called for the coach to pay one half of his remaining base salary (and he had a payment or two remaining from last year’s wages). The Arizona State Board of Regents made the buyout payment to UB on behalf of Hurley. Hurley’s base salary at ASU this year was $1.2 million.

Mom’s wedding: The mother of UB’s Willie Conner, Lakisha Hunter, is getting married March 25 in Chicago. A Cinderella run this weekend would have required Conner to miss the big day. After graduating from high school in Chicago, Conner started his college career at Florida A&M, transferred to a junior college in Texas, then landed at UB. A sociology major, Conner hopes to return to Chicago after college and open a non-profit center that helps children with their educational needs.

NCAA history: While this was UB’s second NCAA appearance, Miami was making its eighth appearance and its seventh in the last 19 seasons. The Hurricanes were a No. 2 seed in 2013 but were eliminated by Marquette in the Sweet 16. They also reached the Sweet 16 in 2000.

National ranking: Miami stood 19th in the nation in free-throw percentage, making 75.1 percent of its shots. The Hurricanes had committed only 16.5 fouls a game, which ranked 26th-best in the country. They also were good at avoiding turnovers, which often is critical in avoiding NCAA Tournament upsets. Miami made the 28th-fewest turnovers in the nation, averaging 10.6 a game.

In the house: The Dunkin Donuts Center, home of the Providence Friars, was filled to a capacity of 12,400.

Up next: Miami was to face the winner of the game between sixth-seeded Arizona and 11th-seeded Wichita State