Canisius slapped Buffalo's midcourt after its come-from-behind win exactly a year ago, so Buffalo responded with a hard hand of its own in this year's edition of the rivalry.
The Bulls didn't run to midcourt after its win, but their smack came in the form of a dominating performance rarely seen in games between the crosstown rivals.
Buffalo (3-1) came out motivated and a few steps ahead of an unexpecting Canisius (2-2) team. The Bulls jumped out and set the tone to gain a 42-29 halftime advantage. Unlike matchups in previous years, the Bulls maintained their intensity and energy in the second half for an 81-64 win. It was Buffalo's largest win against Canisius since World War I (1915).
It was quite a statement after the Golden Griffins took one at Alumni Arena last year. Buffalo led last year's game 42-32 at halftime but promptly gave up its big cushion and lost the game on a last second jumper from Canisius guard Frank Turner. Immediately following the big win, Turner and other Canisius players ran to the Bulls midcourt logo at Alumni Arena and emphatically slapped it.
The Bulls made it their mission to let the scoreboard do the talking this year.
"This one was our list going as far back as last year with some incident that took place on our court," said senior guard Byron Mulkey, eluding to the court slap. "We had some added motivation after take and took care of business tonight."
Mulkey was especially pivotal in the revenge game. He finished with a career-high 23 points on just nine shots to go along with five assists, four rebounds, and three steals. Mulkey had 15 points on 6-for-6 shooting in the first half to help Buffalo go to the locker room with a 42-29 lead after 20 minutes of play.
Canisius started the second half with a 6-0 run to cut Buffalo's lead to seven, but Buffalo answered with a run of its own before a repeat of last year's game could occur.
Led by forwards Jawaan Alston, Mitchell Watt and Javon McCrea, the Bulls followed Canisius' outburt with a 19-7 run to give Buffalo complete control. Like last year, Canisius installed a full-court trap in an attempt to rattle Buffalo's ballhandlers. Instead of faltering to the pressure, Buffalo used quick-hitting passes and Mulkey's quickness and handling to push past the press. Cansius failed get within 14 points of the Bulls after Buffalo's 19-7 run.
"We jumped out early. That's exactly the way we wanted to write it up," Mulkey said. "We put a big emphasis on coming out and setting the tone in the second half with the same intensity and energy."
After the game, head coach Reggie Witherspoon praised Mulkey's control in the second half.
"We had a double digit lead the last time we played [at Canisius], and we kind of got consumed with the emotion. We didn't control tempo of the game and they got back in it," Witherspoon said. "Tonight, [Mulkey] not only controlled the tempo of the game, but he controlled their press pretty well, in many cases by himself."
Like Mulkey, the forwards were key in the win. Alston, Watt and McCrea combined for 28 points and 22 rebounds while imposing their will on Canisius' big men. As a team, Buffalo out-rebounded Canisius 35-26.
The solid all-around performance continued Buffalo's offensive efficiency. Buffalo has averaged above 85 points in its wins and is receiving those points from a variety of players; six Bulls scored seven points or more on Tuesday night.
"A lot of teams have weapons. What I think we have is a cohesive mind-set that really allows all those weapons to function," Watt said. "Different guys score a lot of different nights. It's just whatever the other team wants to give us, or whatever deficiency they have on defense. We have the weapons at all positions to take advantage of that."
Buffalo has three-straight away games remaining on its road trip. The Bulls battle the Indiana State Sycamores (2-3) of the Missouri Valley Conference on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m.