Despite loss, McCrea proves he can be ‘the guy’
It was one of the most anticipated season openers in recent memory in Buffalo. After graduating a senior class that had the most wins in school history, fans and media alike focused on the junior class, expecting 'the five' to lead the men's basketball team to another successful season.
The season opener did not go as planned. A late 3-point basket spoiled the Bulls' opener Saturday night, falling 57-53 after struggling - and that's putting it mildly - to get off to a good start.
But one major question was answered.
Before the season, people wondered whether one prominent member of the junior class, forward Javon McCrea, could take the persona of team leader on the court and dominate the game - the way former forward Mitchell Watt did during stretches last year when he won Player of the Year in the Mid-American Conference.
McCrea proved all doubters wrong, for one game at least.
After a nonexistent first half in which he only played six minutes due to the refs' quick whistles, McCrea was dominant in the second half. He took this young Bulls team and hoisted its hopes on his shoulders.
On the offensive end, he continuously bullied his way around the Princeton defenders, drawing fouls and converting ample and-one opportunities. He scored 19 of the team's first 25 points after the break.
As great as he was on offense, an underrated part of his game continues to be his game-changing defense. He controlled the basket. He punished Tigers forward Ian Hummer, blocking Hummer three times in the last few minutes of the game. Hummer is, by the way, projected to be the Player of the Year in the Ivy League. Even the few times McCrea was caught defending on the wing, he showed his athleticism - which is surprising, considering his bulky frame.
In the second half alone, he put up an impressive stat line of 22 points, seven rebounds - including five on the offensive end -, three blocks and two steals. He was even clutch from the line, as he sunk 10-of-12 shots from the charity stripe - all of them in crucial situations.
After the game, Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson admitted they had no chance of defending McCrea. They were powerless against him when he got going late in the game - something I believe is going to be a consistent theme for opposing coaches throughout the season.
There are many other questions in what will be a long season: namely the shooting abilities of the team outside of senior guard Tony Watson, who will increasingly become part of opposing game plans, and if (and when) sophomore forward Will Regan can get going as he continues to learn the speed of the game.
The Bulls will go this season as McCrea goes. As much as we remember Watt's dominant year, if McCrea plays all season the way he played on Saturday, Watt won't be missed much. Something tells me McCrea has no problem carrying that burden.
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