New faces power Bulls to exhibition win over Daemen

Massinburg, Conner and Perkins combine for 55 of Buffalo's 87 points

dsc_9872

CJ Massinburg. Willie Conner. Nick Perkins.

Those were the men’s basketball team’s top-3 scorers Friday night.

Don’t recognize the names? Welcome to the 2015-16 Buffalo Bulls basketball team.

On a night where the Bulls hung their Mid-American Conference Championship banner in Alumni Arena, new faces who weren’t even on last year’s championship team lead the way for an 87-68 exhibition win over Daemen Friday night. New players Massinburg, Conner and Perkins accounted for 55 of the team’s 87 points on a night where Buffalo turned the ball over 24 times.

“We got a lot of work to do still, but I was pleased with the final outcome,” said first-year head coach Nate Oats. “I thought [Massinburg] played really well. But like I told the team, I think he deserved to have a good game for his first game … we have a bright future with those guys coming in.”

Buffalo held a 10-point lead halfway through the second half, but that would be the closest margin for the rest of the game. From there, it was all Buffalo. Actually, it was all C.J. Massinburg.

The freshman guard dazzled in his Buffalo debut with a team-high 25 points – 22 in the second half alone – with five rebounds, three assists and two steals. With a comfortable 10-point lead, Massinburg accounted for 11 straight points from 10:03 – 8:32 in the second half to give Buffalo a scintillating 21-point lead.

When the game was out of reach, Oats pulled Massinburg to reduce risk of injury before the season begins. His teammates wanted him in to reach the 30-point milestone.

“Coach Oats told me to go out there and be aggressive and just keep attacking and make them foul me,” Massinburg said. “I just wanted to be as aggressive as possible and just get shots off. I felt it, so it just rode with it.”

Massinburg is expected to play multiple positions in the backcourt this season, especially in guard-heavy packages. Oats said Massinburg will also play point guard throughout the season when sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden is on the bench.

Massinburg wasn’t the only newcomer that Oats is excited about.

“He plays hard in practice, he goes hard,” Oats said about Conner. “He’s being a leader. He talks. He’s into it. I like Willie a lot. Defensively, he was pretty good.”

Conner, a junior wing and junior college transfer, finished his night with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting in 29 minutes. He briefly sustained a lower body injury, but he was able to return for the game and will play in next week’s opener.

Freshman forward Nick Perkins finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting and eight rebounds in a team-high 30 minutes played.

The Bulls led by nine points entering the second half, but got off to a sluggish start filled with sloppy ball handling and turnovers. In the first three possessions, Buffalo turned the ball over twice, but only resulted in two early Daemen points.

Buffalo committed 24 turnovers on the night. Oats and the rest of the players embrace the fast-paced culture of the team and understand they must be more careful with the ball moving forward if they want success.

“We want to play fast,” Conner said. “By us playing fast, we’re going to make minor mistakes, little turnovers here and there. We definitely want to cut [24 turnovers] down.”

Buffalo powered the Wildcats around the rim and on the glass. Altogether, the Bulls finished with 48 rebounds and 46 points in the paint.

Before the game, fans erupted into cheers as the 2015 MAC Championship banner was released into the rafters of Alumni Arena. Buffalo defeated Central Michigan 89-84 in the MAC Championship game last year to win the conference title and advance to its first NCAA Tournament.

Senior forward Jarryn Skeete, junior forward David Kadiri and freshman wing Nikola Rakicevic did not play in Friday’s exhibition. Skeete is currently under concussion protocol, but is expected to be cleared and to practice on Monday. Kadiri received a cortisone shot in his ailing knee and the recovery is expected to be around 4-5 days but he is probable for the regular season opener Friday Nov. 13 against Pitt.-Bradford.

Rakicevic is currently dealing with NCAA amateurism issues, but the specifics of his case were not released. Oats is unsure if he will play next Friday.

The Bulls will already be without senior forward Raheem Johnson and sophomore guard Mory Diane in the season opener, as the two will be suspended for their role in a dorm theft over the summer that lead to former Bull Justin Moss’ expulsion from the university.

The season officially kicks off next Friday against Pitt.-Bradford at Alumni Arena at 9 p.m. Students in the crowd determined the time by cheering for either a 7 p.m., 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. start.

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman.