The defensive sequence of Saturday’s basketball game at Alumni Arena came late in the first half.
Marist milked the clock, threw up a forced 3-point attempt, grabbed the rebound then struggled to pass the ball around before the buzzer sounded to indicate a shot-clock violation.
It was 60 straight seconds of in-your-face defense, and all the players on the University at Buffalo bench leapt to their feet in appreciation.
“It stinks that they want to hold the ball for a whole minute, but if they’re going to do that, we’re going to be ready to guard,” said UB star CJ Massinburg. “Any time we get a shot-clock violation, we celebrate because that’s great defense.”
So it went for most of the afternoon, as UB rolled to a 76-49 victory over the Red Foxes before a crowd of 4,589.
UB (5-0) demonstrated a big reason why it’s ranked No. 22 in the nation: dominant perimeter defense.
Just like last year, the Bulls have a fleet of athletic guards who make it hard for opponents to drive to the basket or get into any offensive rhythm.
“We don’t give up many blow-bys,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “We’re cutting people off and taking charges, putting doubts in their head as to whether they should even try to drive or not. It’s tough to play against.”
Marist, picked to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, was averaging 71 ppg. The Red Foxes were 14th in the nation in 3-point shooting at 44.2 percent but managed to hit just 4 of 18 behind the arc (22 percent).
Marist’s best player, guard Brian Parker, managed three points, 15 below his season average.
“They’re in the top 25 for a reason,” said Marist coach John Dunne. “On the ball, they have quick first steps, they move their feet, they square the ball quick. Then they take those charges. And they strip you. They get you sped up so now when you put it down into a tight gap, they strip you off the wings. Then they get on the floor for loose balls. They do everything you need to do to have a winning season.”
There are no weak links on UB’s defensive perimeter. Sophomore Davonta Jordan made the Mid-American Conference all-defensive team last year. Senior Dontay Caruthers was MAC defensive player of the year two years ago. The 6-3 Massinburg has been a defensive stopper for the Bulls for four years.
This year 6-3 sophomore Jayvon Graves has stepped up his defensive game, and the Bulls added super-quick freshman Ronaldo “Rondo” Segu from Orlando. He’s fitting in already.
“I’ve got in my opinion two of the best in the country in Davonta Jordan and Dontay Caruthers,” Oats said. “If your third, fourth and fifth on-ball defenders are Jayvon, who took two charges today; CJ, who’s not going to get beat, he’s got too much pride; and Rondo, who’s quick and getting much better, you’re pretty good.”
UB’s offense gets more attention, but the Bulls’ defense last year ranked second in the MAC and 66th in the nation in total field-goal percentage allowed.
This year the Bulls stand 53rd in the nation in defensive efficiency, 32nd in total field-goal percentage allowed.
It’s a mentality that has been developed over the past four years.
“I feel like it starts with our practices,” Massinburg said. “We have really intense practices. ... We try to shut out the gold (scout) team.”
“When the scout team’s on offense,” Oats said of practice, “I let them stay on offense for the whole 10, 12-minute segment. You get one point for a stop, two points for a turnover, three points for a charge. So if you don’t get a turnover or a charge, you gotta get eight stops before the scout team gets to eight points, which is hard to do.”
Every game UB hands out a “hard-hat award,” which goes to the player who racks up the most points for defensive successes. It’s a construction hat that stays in the winner’s locker.
A defensive rebound, a deflection, a steal and a block all are worth one point. An offensive rebound is 1.5, a charge is four, a dive for a loose ball is 2.
Jordan won the hard hat for the second time this season on Saturday. Jordan and Massinburg tied for the most hard hats last year at nine.
“You’re actually missing the good stuff,” Massinburg said. “The good stuff is actually in practice.”