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Behind Hamilton, UB Bulls pull away late in victory over Miami Ohio

Buffalo records second consecutive conference victory behind Hamilton’s career night

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It looks like sophomore Lamonte Bearden may not have to rush back into the lineup.

With the sophomore guard and team leading scorer sidelined for a second consecutive game with a foot injury, the Buffalo men’s basketball team was forced to find a scoring replacement for him.

Last game, it was senior guard Jarryn Skeete who stepped up. On Tuesday, it was junior wing Blake Hamilton.

Behind a career game by Hamilton and an all-around excellent rebounding effort, the Bulls (10-8, 3-2 Mid-American Conference) picked up their second consecutive conference victory with a 77-60 victory over Miami Ohio (6-12, 0-5) in Oxford, Ohio Tuesday night. Buffalo scored 47 second-half points and outrebounded the RedHawks 44-25 to propel the team above .500 in conference play for the first time this season.

“We talked to our guys that if we can win some of our road [games] and put ourselves in position in the second half of the season where we have six of nine at home, we can make a run,” said head coach Nate Oats. “This was a game that we had to play hard to win, and we got it.”

Hamilton scored a game-high 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds in one of his best performances as a Bull. With Bearden still out with a foot injury and junior wing Willie Conner – Buffalo’s second-highest scorer – limited to just seven points due to foul trouble, it was Hamilton who took control of the team.

Said Oats about his rising star: “He’s doing a little bit of everything – just like we need him to do.”

He was Buffalo’s main source of production in the first half when no other player seemed to find their form. He only hit two baskets from the field in the half, but he was perfect at the line (6 of 6) because of his ability to get to the rim and draw shooting fouls from outside the paint.

“My game, I feel real comfortable. Oats gives me a lot of freedom,” Hamilton said. “He lets me rebound and push the ball up court and get the ball in transition. I’ve been working on my shot lately. My jumper is getting better. If my jumper is there, I feel like I’m a real hard player to guard. And that’s been going good for me these past couple of games.”

Hamilton also kept Buffalo in the matchup. On paper, Buffalo should have been able to easily handle the RedHawks, but for 20 minutes, the team had to battle with one of the lower-seeded opponents it will face on this harsh road trip, and wait for the rest of its players to catch up to the rising wing.

It was worth the wait.

In the end, Buffalo had four players ascend to double-digit scoring after outscoring Miami by 19 points in the second half, including another rising star in freshman guard CJ Massinburg. Massinburg put up 13 points in his second game as a starter for the injured Bearden. Massinburg has seen more time as a shooting guard/wing, while Skeete assumed the point guard duties for the second time in a row.

And once again, Skeete channeled his freshman year form to dish out four assists and grab seven rebounds. His pass-first, shoot-second mentality was on display – mainly to reprimand for a dismal shooting performance.

Skeete could not find a rhythm from the perimeter and settled for one deep three-pointer on eight attempts and finished shooting just 2 of 14 for the night.

“Skeete didn’t shoot it great, but he had another really good game running the point for us,” Oats said. “He got the ball moving well.”

Freshman Nick Perkins and junior David Kadiri combined for 22 points on 9 of 14 from the field while accompanying Hamilton as the lead scorers of the second half. The duo controlled the paint on both ends of the court.

Oats said since Bearden has been out of the lineup, the rotation has changed as well. Massinburg, Skeete, Hamilton and Conner have seen time at the point and as a wing, rather than playing as a stretch three. As a result, players like Kadiri and Perkins have been playing their natural positions at power forward rather than at the five.

Buffalo is now tied in the MAC East with Akron and Bowling Green with a 3-2 conference record behind Akron (4-1 MAC).

The Bulls still have to play three of their next four games on the road, including the top three teams in the MAC West.

Nothing of concern for Hamilton.

“This league, anybody can win any given night,” Hamilton said. “I think we’re talented enough to be 4-0 and talented enough to win the MAC. Any given night, you have to come out and give max effort and win a road game if you need to.”

First up is a Western Michigan squad (7-11, 1-4 MAC) that is near the bottom of the conference this season. Buffalo takes on the Broncos on Saturday at University Arena in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Tipoff is set for 4:30 p.m.

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman. 


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