University at Buffalo men's basketball lost reigning Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year Dontay Caruthers to a stress reaction at the start of December, but Davonta Jordan has picked up right where he left off.
"He's as key to our team as anybody right now," UB coach Nate Oats said.
Jordan has taken on the top defensive assignments in Caruthers' absence and thrived, especially in conference play. He held Ball State’s Tayler Persons to eight points, six below his season average, and Akron’s Malcolm Duvivier to seven points, 50 percent of his season average.
Tuesday night, Jordan matched up against Northern Illinois' Eugene German, who came in leading the MAC in scoring with 19.9 points per game. Jordan shadowed him in the 33 minutes he played. German didn't attempt a field goal in the first four minutes of the game and was held to 1 for 6 from the floor for two points in the first half.
"My role was going in there and limiting his touches," Jordan said. "Go in there on fire and stop him from touching the ball and make somebody else beat us."
German turned the ball over three times and Jordan baited him into a charge late in the first. Although German finished with a respectable 17 points in the game, most of his second half scoring came in garbage time or when Jordan wasn't on him as the Bulls pulled away to a 95-67 victory.
Jordan said he gets up for the tests Oats has thrown at him.
"It makes me zone in and do what I've got to do," Jordan said.
The defense as a whole has been outstanding for the Bulls, who have won five straight MAC games by an average of 19 points and have held teams under 70 in four straight games. Oats said Jordan is the key, causing him to push for his tenacious guard to be this year's MAC Defensive Player of the Year.
"Our defense starts with him," Oats said. "Especially in our league, you get a lot of scoring from the point."
UB got a 40-minute performance from the defense against Northern Illinois, but the offense wasn't nearly as consistent. The Bulls shot 3 for 18 from 3-point range in the first half but still led by three at the break thanks to their work guarding the now 9-9 Huskies. The lack of success on the offensive end didn't lead to players slacking on defense.
The shots finally fell in the second half. The Bulls hit 8 of their 13 attempts from deep in the final 20 minutes, blowing a once-close game wide open. UB outscored Northern Illinois 59-34 in the second half to move to 5-0 in the MAC for the first time in program history.
Once again, the Bulls did it without Caruthers, who Oats previously said he expected to return against the Huskies. It turns out there was a miscommunication between Caruthers and his doctor. The junior is cleared to practice in the half court but his timetable to return to game action is still unknown. He's missed 11 games.
"He came in all excited. He thought he was playing last game, then the trainer came in, 'No, no, no,'" Oats said. "The doctor said it was still too sore. He's seeing a specialist tomorrow."
With how well the Bulls have played without him, how good can the defense be when he returns?
"Unbelievable," Jordan said. "I'm not going to have to guard the best player the whole game. We can take turns, I can go off and cause havoc on someone else who is not as good."