"Bulls drop Big Four road test at Niagara, fall to 0-2"
The "Purple Nation" crowd of students chanted boisterously, "This is our house!" as the final seconds waned down at the 'Taps' Gallagher Center of Niagara University on Wednesday night.
The atmosphere was booming for the Big Four's showdown featuring the Bulls and the Niagara Purple Eagles. The Purple Eagles fed off their home crowd -snagging offensive rebounds, fearlessly slashing to the basket and finding back-door cutters for easy layups in the paint - and the Bulls' monstrous effort from senior forward Javon McCrea wasn't enough as Niagara won, 92-81.
McCrea finished with 31 points and 14 rebounds. Bobby Hurley is now 0-2 as Buffalo's new head coach.
"We have to get back to the drawing board defensively and figure out a way to not let our opponents shoot such a high percentage from the field," Hurley said. "To give up 92 points is unacceptable."
While the Bulls struggled to shoot early - scoring only five points through the game's first eight minutes - the Purple Eagles (1-1) fought for offensive rebounds and created second-chance opportunities that got them out to an early lead. Niagara took a 6-5 lead three minutes in and never trailed again.
The Bulls were outrebounded 44-41 (28-17 in the first half), and the Purple Eagles shot 48.4 percent from the field compared to Buffalo's 37.9 percent.
Aside from McCrea - Hurley said "[we] couldn't have thrown the ball enough to him," - Hurley's new offense seems to be taking some time for the players to get used to. The Bulls shot 31.2 percent against Texas A&M last Friday.
"Our guys will learn the offense better," Hurley said. "It's all new to them so I think it will come around once the season progresses."
Senior guard Josh Freelove was second on the team with 15 points and has shown flashes of being a potential go-to shooter - a role that is increasingly becoming a necessity for the Bulls, who have shot 12 for 47 from three-point range in their first two games.
One of the biggest components of Hurley's new system is a three-guard lineup, featuring a combination of Freelove, senior Jarod Oldham, sophomore Jarryn Skeete and freshman Shannon Evans. All four guards played at least 22 minutes Wednesday (Oldham 34 and Skeete 33), though they had struggles.
Oldham, Skeete and Evans shot a combined 6 for 28 and scored just 19 points. Oldham, the point guard, had eight turnovers.
"[Oldham's] arguably our best all-around player," Hurley said. "He didn't have a great game, but I'm going to anticipate seeing him playing a lot better throughout the year."
Since falling behind in the game's opening minutes, the closest the Bulls came was within four points - 83-79 at 3:30.
The Purple Eagles seemed to have an answer for every Bulls run - whether it was via an Antoine Mason and-one 3-pointer with 12 minutes left to extend Niagara's lead to eight, or via two points at the free-throw line. The game featured 73 free-throw attempts (40 from the Purple Eagles), and Hurley described some of the referees' block/charge calls as "peculiar."
Mason, a guard and Niagara's leading scorer, torched the Bulls for 25. Ramone Snowden and Tahjere McCall each had 15 points and eight rebounds.
The Bulls failed to get much production from junior forward Will Regan - last season's second-leading scorer and a preseason first-team All Mid-American Conference honoree. Regan got into foul trouble early, played 19 minutes and scored five points - often getting bullied in the paint defensively.
The Bulls will look to get their first win in the home opener on Saturday against Division II opponent West Virginia Wesleyan (1-1). Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. in Alumni Arena.