Bearden's breakout game lifts Bulls over Canisius in Big 4 Basketball Classic

Buffalo wins its first Big 4 matchup of the season


Through its first four games, the Buffalo men’s basketball team was undefeated (3-0) when sophomore guard Shannon Evans scored at least 17 points. Evans scored just two points in this season’s lone loss.

On Saturday against Canisius, Evans scored only five points and was 2 of 9 from the field. The Bulls (4-1) still got the victory over the Golden Griffins, however, in a part because of the production of their other young guard.

Freshman guard Lamonte Bearden scored a career-best 23 points as the Bulls defeated Canisius (2-3), 72-57, Saturday at First Niagara Center as a part of the Big 4 Basketball Classic doubleheader between the four Western New York Division I men’s basketball teams. St. Bonaventure defeated Niagara 74-59 earlier in the day.

“To go out and score 20 points is really not his game,” said head coach Bobby Hurley. “[Bearden] plays like a true point guard, finding his teammates and playing in the open court, but he was making shots with a good rhythm on offense. I think we got a comfortable win despite not having the type of performances on offense that we would get usually from Will [Regan], Shannon and Jarryn [Skeete].”

Evans, Skeete and junior forward Justin Moss scored two-thirds of Buffalo’s points through the team’s first four games. The three combined for only 26 points –led by Moss’ 18 – Saturday.

Bearden took a team-high 13 shots. His previous high was seven.

“I just try and take whatever the defense gives me,” Bearden said. “If they give me a layup I’ll take the layup, if they give me the jump shot I’ll take it or I’ll pass. Whatever the defense gives me.”

The Bulls were highly active on defense with eight steals – including six in the first half – and senior forward Xavier Ford and junior forward Raheem Johnson combined for Buffalo’s seven blocks. Canisius shot just 32 percent from the field – including 8 of 33 in the first half.

Hurley said defending Canisius’ 3-point shooting was a point of emphasis. Buffalo held the Golden Griffins to just 6 of 25 from beyond the arc.

“That’s the type of defense we’ve been talking about playing, that we’ve been flashing at times this season,” Hurley said. “Holding them to the percentages we held to from the field and creating turnovers, I think got us off to a great start.”

Buffalo dominated from the opening tip, using a game-opening 6-0 run and led by as many as nine points within the opening five minutes.

The Golden Griffins cut Buffalo’s advantage to 25-19 after a three-point basket from guard Jermaine Crumtpon with 4:18 remaining in the first half. It would be Canisius’ final points of the half.

The Bulls closed out the first half on a 9-0 run, including five points from Bearden, to take a 34-19 halftime lead.

The Bulls used an 11-4 run to widen gap to 18 points – their largest lead of game – after Canisius cut the score to 41-30 less than five minutes into the second half.

The Golden Griffin scored twice as many points in the second half as they did in the first, as both teams scored 38 points after halftime.

“I’m not sure why we didn’t play anywhere near the way we did in the first half as we did in the second half so we got to figure out a way to put 40 minutes together,” Hurley said.

Moss had 12 rebounds to go along with his 18 points, while junior guard Rodell Wigginton scored 12 points off the bench.

Two of Buffalo’s four wins this season have come by double-digits, and its lone loss came against Kentucky – who was the No. 1 team in the country at the time. Buffalo led that game at halftime. Hurley said his team has progressed quicker than he thought it would before the season.

“It’s exciting with a lot of new players to be able to win some games early in the season that will give our guys some confidence,” Hurley said.

Saturday was the fourth time the ‘Big 4’ schools played one another at First Niagara Center. Buffalo fell to Canisius in the First Niagara Center, 69-55, Dec. 11, 2013.

“Last year I questioned [The Big 4 Basketball Classic] because of the turnout, I didn’t think it was a great crowd or great atmosphere,” Hurley said. “I think it was a lot better this year. If we can develop some tradition with it and have people see good basketball then people will come looking for it.”

The announced crowd of Saturday’s game was 7,191. The First Niagara Center seats more than 18,000.

The Bulls next play at St. Bonaventure (4-1) Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.