Skeete turns back clock, runs point in UB Bulls’ win over Central Michigan
No Bearden, no problem for Buffalo in MAC title game rematch
With their leading scorers out of the game, both the Buffalo men’s basketball team and Central Michigan turned to their longest-tenured, trusted guards to run their respective offenses Saturday.
And while Buffalo’s defense swarmed Central Michigan star point guard Chris Fowler into a dismal performance, Bulls guard Jarryn Skeete turned back the clock to 2012 to run the point and lead Buffalo to a 74-61 victory in a Mid-American Conference title game rematch.
The Bulls (9-8, 2-2 MAC) defeated Central Michigan (9-8, 2-2 MAC) Saturday afternoon at Alumni Arena with a vintage performance by Skeete, who filled in for injured sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden. It was the first time the two squads have faced each other since Buffalo defeated the Chippewas 89-84 in the MAC Championship game last March to advance to its first NCAA Tournament.
Skeete finished with 13 points and 12 assists, while setting up teammates with no-look passes and near full court lobs throughout the afternoon.
“Back to the basics,” Skeete said of his performance. “I did it all my first year so it kind of reminded me of back when I was playing for Coach Spoon. I think [head coach Nate] Oats put me in a better system so you got to really see what I can do when I’m behind the one. Also you have to trust in your teammates to finish it when you get it to them.”
Skeete hadn’t played much point guard since filling in for an injured Jarod Oldham during the second half of his freshman year three seasons ago. But with Bearden out with a foot injury Saturday, Oats turned to Skeete. The two agreed before the season that Oats would not recruit another point guard so Skeete could get some playing time at point guard this season.
Oats said because of Skeete’s performance, the senior might continue to get opportunities handling the ball even once Bearden returns to the lineup.
Skeete didn’t get his offensive game going until the final seconds of the first half, when he hit a three-pointer to give the Bulls a 33-23 halftime advantage, which was set up by a great one-handed play to keep the ball in bounds by freshman forward Nick Perkins.
Buffalo remained in control of the game for the first 12 or so minutes of the second half, as it never led by less than six. Central Michigan was able to cut its deceit down to make it just a 54-52 game in Buffalo’s favor, but the Bulls went on their own 13-0 run to pull – and stay – ahead.
Buffalo’s defense kept Fowler, who scored 27 points against the Bulls in the MAC Championship game last season, in check by limiting him to just 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting. The MAC Player of the Year runner-up seemed frustrated at times Saturday, as he was unable to get many foul calls or penetrate the lane thanks in part to the defense of junior wing Willie Conner.
Central Michigan had just eight free throw attempts Saturday.
Chippewas’ leading scorer Braylon Rayson did not travel with his team in order to attend his grandmother’s funeral. Oats said Rayson and Bearden both not being in the game “canceled each other out” in terms of any team having an advantage.
Bearden’s absence also opened up opportunities for freshman wing Nikola Rakicevic, who finished with eight points and went 2 of 4 from three-point range. Junior wing Blake Hamilton tied for a game-high 14 points, as well as nine rebounds and three assists.
Oats said Bearden is “day-to-day” and will receive an MRI exam on his foot Monday morning. He said there was no break in Bearden’s foot.
The head coach was impressed with his team’s effort Saturday against a team that was favored to win the MAC heading into the season.
“We brought it tonight,” Oats said. “That’s what I talked about to the guys tonight: There’s no reason this effort can’t come out every single night out. If we did we may be 4-0 right now leading the league.”
Buffalo starts a stretch of four of five on the road beginning Tuesday in Oxford, Ohio against Miami Ohio (6-11, 0-4 MAC). Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.