As Jim Whitesell has progressed through a coaching career that began nearly 40 years ago in North Dakota, he’s abided by one philosophy: Just win the next one.
Along the way, Whitesell has won a few games as a head coach at the Division I, II and III levels.
He reached a milestone in his 19th game as UB's head coach.
Whitesell won his 400th game as UB defeated Western Michigan a 90-79 Tuesday at Alumni Arena. Whitesell became one of 51 active men’s basketball coaches to win at least 400 games.
“It’s a nice number,” Whitesell said Tuesday after the victory. “But to me, number 13 was the big one for us, and we’ll see if we can get the next one there.”
Earlier in the week, Whitesell considered what brought him to the historic point in his career.
“I had great administrators that hired me at a young age, and wonderful staff members and players,” Whitesell said. “To me, it’s not about that number, but I’ve really been blessed to have an opportunity to do it.”
In his first season at the helm of the Bulls, Whitesell also has leaned on what he's learned as an assistant coach, including eight seasons at UB on Nate Oats’ staff, before Whitesell replaced Oats in April.
“I learned a lot from Nate, from Rick (Majerus at St. Louis) and from Steve (Lavin at St. John’s) and from Jim Crews (at St. Louis),” Whitesell said. “To work with those four guys was an educational opportunity, and all of that, I’m grateful.
“And for my wife, Connie, to put up with me to do this, I’m so grateful. Being a coach’s wife is never easy, especially during the season, so there’s the No. 1 person there.”
Jayvon Graves scored a game-high 23 points as UB (13-6, 4-2 Mid-American Conference) won its fourth consecutive game.
Graves also celebrated his coach’s achievement.
“I’m excited for him,” Graves said. “He works super-hard, every day and he’s a positive influence on the team and on the community.”
Graves was one of three players to score in double figures for the Bulls, along with Antwain Johnson (21 points) and Josh Mballa (18 points).
The Bulls, however, needed a defensive effort in the second half to hold off the Broncos. Brandon Johnson and Titus Wright each scored 18 points for Western Michigan (9-10, 2-4), which took a 37-32 lead with 4:30 left in the half, as the Bulls went 1 for 13 from the floor in a stretch of more than six minutes.
But with his team down 43-40 in the final five seconds of the half, Ronaldo Segu grabbed a rebound off Mballa’s dunk attempt, which was blocked by Chase Barrs. As Segu sank a jumper just outside the paint, he was fouled by Western Michigan’s Adrian Martin with 2.3 seconds left.
Segu completed the three-point play to tie the game at 43, and the Bulls used the momentum to storm out in the second half, as Graves scored two quick baskets to give UB a 47-43 lead less than 30 seconds into the half.
“We were all a little bit frustrated,” Whitesell said. “Western had scored so many and we’d done some things like box out on the free throw, a couple missed assignments defensively, we just broke down and a couple times we gave up layups, so we had to get back and regroup.
“That basket, emotionally, got us going. It got the crowd a little pumped up and our vibe at halftime was much better than probably what it would have been, three minutes before that.”
Graves, who scored 16 points in the second half, agreed that Segu’s basket gave the Bulls momentum.
“That was big for us,” Graves said. “Rondo’s a good player, and every shot, it looks like it’s going in for him.”
UB led by as many as seven points in the first five minutes of the second half, but Western Michigan's Patrick Emilien hit a 3-pointer off transition that cut UB's lead to 62-61 about nine minutes into the second half.
The Broncos tied the game at 64 with 9:03 left on Jared Printy’s 3-pointer, but the Bulls kicked off a 10-2 run in the next four minutes, fueled by rebounding, including four defensive rebounds that set up four baskets.
Mballa’s thundering dunk punctuated the run, a play that started off Davonta Jordan's defensive rebound, and helped the Bulls take a 74-66 lead with 5:11 left.
“We had another surge and we had our starters back in there, so I thought that was really big, another wave,” Whitesell said of the late run. “We were fresh, defensively, and got some run-outs again.”
Jim Whitesell’s coaching record, by school
2019-2020: Buffalo: 13-6
2004-2011, Loyola-Chicago: 109-107
1992-2004, Lewis University: 214-136
1987-1992, Elmhurst College: 64-68