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Jeremy Harris is Mr. Versatility in leading UB to MAC semifinals

CLEVELAND — Jeremy Harris is the latest, great Swiss-Army-knife weapon for Nate Oats' University at Buffalo basketball team.

The 6-foot-7 junior showed off his ability to do it all on both ends of the court Thursday in leading the Bulls to an 89-74 victory over Central Michigan. Harris scored a career-high 27 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out three assists.

Athletic wings who can shoot, drive, rebound, pass and defend four positions are the most valuable assets of modern basketball.

UB had just that kind of player the past two years in 6-6 Blake Hamilton, the man who sank the biggest shot in UB history, the buzzer beater to send the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament in 2016.

Hamilton's graduation created a giant hole. But Oats found the perfect replacement in Harris, who was the No. 8-rated prep player in North Carolina coming out of high school. After starring for two seasons at Gulf Coast State junior college in Florida, UB won a recruiting battle for Harris over Texas Tech.

"We play him at the 4 and he's really not a 4, he's a 3," said Oats referring to the power forward (4) and small forward (3) positions. "He's a matchup nightmare, a little bit like Blake Hamilton was for us."

"Shoot, when he came on the recruiting visit, we just showed him an 8-minute highlight of Blake Hamilton and said this is how we're going to play you," Oats said. "I think he's your quintessential big wing really. . . . Look at the NBA, most of the 4s would have been 3s 10 years ago."

Two years ago when UB made the NCAAs, Hamilton averaged 13.1 points, 7.1 rebounds. 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals. He made 53 three-pointers and shot 38 percent behind the arc.

Harris is averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds. 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals. He has made 82 threes, and he's shooting 42 percent behind the arc. Hamilton arguably was a tad more physical than Harris. Harris is faster.

Over the past 19 games, since MAC play started, Harris is shooting a phenomenal 46.5 percent behind the arc, best in the MAC. It's no fluke. Harris shot 44.8 percent behind the arc at Gulf Coast State.

"I'm not really sure if this is the best I ever shot," Harris said. "But me and my teammates spend a lot of time in the gym after practice and it's starting to pay off."

Harris hit the biggest three-pointer of the game Thursday, putting UB ahead, 75-70 with 4:42 left.

"We called a punch play for Perk," said Harris, referring to a low-post pass to Nick Perkins. "They loaded on him all game, so I was wide open in the corner."

One reason UB is sixth in the nation in scoring is the Bulls run the floor so fast in transition. Sometimes after an opponent's missed shot, it seems UB has the ball up to Harris and in the basket before you turn your head to the other end of the floor.

"It's good to have somebody that's kind of in a hurry to go score," said UB guard Dontay Caruthers. "Really that's kind of our motto. We run really fast when we get the O-board."

Harris and the Bulls now are two wins away from the NCAA Tournament. They face No. 4 seed Kent State at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Harris had the NCAAs in mind when he was recruited.

"I had a lot of schools looking at me out of junior college," he said. "I took one other visit, to Texas Tech."

Why UB?

"The coaching staff and the style they play," Harris said. "I fell in love with the coaches. I knew they went to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. I wanted to come to a school where I could play and get to the NCAA Tournament."

UB got 18 points from guard CJ Massinburg, 16 from Perkins and 11 from guard Wes Clark. The Bulls never trailed after the first two minutes, although CMU stayed close due to its shooting ability.

The Bulls held a 51-36 edge in rebounds.

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