The last time the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team lost a game at Alumni Arena, Jim Whitesell was an assistant coach on Nate Oats’ staff. UB forward Jeenathan Williams was playing basketball for a prep program in Northern California, and Bulls guard Ronaldo Segu was a senior in high school in central Florida.
Friday night at Alumni Arena, UB dropped its first game at home in nearly two years, a 68-63 loss to Dartmouth of the Ivy League in its season opener.
The loss came a day after the Bulls were given their MAC championship rings in a post-practice ceremony, and on a night when UB unveiled its conference championship banner behind the court at Alumni Arena.
Yet the celebration ended quickly. Dartmouth led the Bulls by as many as 14 points in the first half and as many as 17 in the second. Then, the Big Green held off a charge by the Bulls, who cut Dartmouth’s lead to one point with 1:39 left on Jayvon Graves’ 3-pointer.
The Big Green spoiled Whitesell’s debut as head coach of the Bulls, and handed UB its first home loss since Dec. 2, 2017, when St. Bonaventure defeated the Bulls 73-62. The loss ended UB’s 26-game winning streak at Alumni Arena.
Davonta Jordan led UB (0-1) with 17 points and Graves added 15, but poor shooting plagued UB. The Bulls finished 24 for 68 from the floor, including 10 for 35 effort on 3-point attempts – a number that Whitesell considered too high for a team that centralizes its play on its guards.
“Offensively, we really sputtered at times,” Whitesell said. “Give Dartmouth a lot of credit there, we seemed to have a problem with them being in the gaps and we didn’t seem to get to move the ball. I thought we had a lot of good shots early, but then we really struggled.”
Jordan said the Bulls rushed their shots instead of being patient in choosing and taking shots, and there wasn’t a willingness to take contested shots. With 3-pointers, in particular, on a reconfigured-court that pushed the 3-point line back nearly 17 inches, Jordan found that he had to alter his mechanics when shooting.
“It’s stepping into it instead of stepping backwards or to the side,” Jordan said. “The 3-point line being pushed back is really no effect to the shooters. It’s just that you have to step into it instead of stepping back.”
Poor decision-making also hurt the Bulls, particularly on defense, against a patient Dartmouth offense that’s defined by constant motion and a level of discipline.
“We had good ball pressure but we tried to gamble a lot,” Whitesell said. “That was undisciplined there, what we did, and they made us pay for it.
“They do a good job of moving the ball and keep running their motion, and their Princeton offense, with back-doors and that, and that’s when you really have to settle down and stay with your principles. We bailed out a couple times, and they took advantage of it.”
The Bulls also didn’t do enough inside, evidenced in part by the fact that more than half their shots were 3-point attempts. The Bulls also didn’t convert on second-chance points, despite having 17 offensive rebounds.
“We need to crash the boards,” said Josh Mballa, a forward and a transfer from Texas Tech who scored 10 points and had nine rebounds in his debut with the Bulls. “That was a big factor in the game. If we had a couple more o-boards, we could have got this win.”
The Bulls opened 2 for 12 from the floor in the first seven minutes, and Dartmouth took a 14-5 lead on Ian Carter’s layup off transition just before the first media timeout.
But even with poor shooting – close-range shots rolling off the rim, or long-range shots clanking back out – the Bulls chipped Dartmouth’s early lead to four midway through the first half, but Dartmouth answered with a 9-0 run that helped it open its lead to 33-26 at the half.
Down 47-30 seven minutes into the second half, Jordan’s 3-pointer sparked a 22-7 run for the Bulls that cut Dartmouth’s lead to 54-52 with 6:35 left, on a dunk by Mballa. Then, with 1:39 left in regulation, Graves’ 3-pointer brought the Bulls within one, at 61-60. However, Dartmouth guard Taurus Samuels (16 points) scored six of the Big Green’s final seven points down the stretch.