Top returners from championship team lead UB men’s basketball to 86-68 win over North Carolina A&T

Wigginton, Skeete, Bearden go off in Buffalo’s first victory since opening night

The remaining members of the 2015 Mid-American Conference Championship team made a statement Saturday night.

After an offseason of departures, the men’s basketball team is counting on them to lead the way this season, and they did just that in leading the Bulls (2-2) to an 86-68 win over North Carolina A&T (0-4) in Uncasville, Connecticut Saturday. The game was the third of four games Buffalo will play in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic.

Buffalo’s top-three returners, senior guard Jarryn Skeete, sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden and senior forward Rodell Wigginton, all scored in double digits and led the Bulls to the convincing victory.

Wigginton has been an early surprise for Buffalo and put up another impressive line Saturday. After scoring 25 points in Buffalo’s season-opening 109-49 win over Pittsburgh at Bradford, Wigginton had a team-high 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists against the Aggies. The senior currently leads Buffalo in scoring with 15.2 points a game.

Other areas of Wigginton’s game like crisp passing and aggressive rebounding were also present Saturday. His size allows him to play a hybrid guard/forward position and Saturday was a reminder he can also handle the ball.

“If it wasn’t for his offensive rebounding, we would have been down in the first half,” said head coach Nate Oats. “His energy, his offensive rebounding … he even had five assists. That’s as good as I’ve ever seen him play.”

Skeete also had a breakout game in scoring a season-high 18 points – all from beyond the arc. He didn’t even attempt a shot from inside the three-point line, but still managed to go 6 for 10. He was not rushing his shots, which had been a problem in the first three games, and it paid dividends in the victory.

“I knew if we got the ball moving, he’s going to get open shots,” Oats said. “And he doesn’t miss open shots. He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever been around. I was just as happy as can be for him.”

Altogether, the Bulls went 10-of-24 from deep and shot 40.6 percent from the field.

“You get open shots when you move the ball,” Oats said. “That becomes contagious. Guys want to move the ball.”

The game was never out of reach for Buffalo, but it easily could have. With 10:28 remaining in the first half, Buffalo trailed by seven points, but it closed out the half on a 19-4 run. Buffalo didn’t do anything special to go on the run. Aside from a dominating stretch of defense, the Bulls did well with the basics: free throws.

The Bulls hit 13 of 15 shots from the charity stripe during that stretch after consistently drawing fouls. On the night, Buffalo hit 24 of 32 free throws.

Bearden was instrumental at the line and hit eight of his 10 shots from the stripe. He was battling foul trouble, but was able to complete the game and finished with a season-high 16 points, four assists and four rebounds.

“He was much more like the Lamonte I was expecting than he has been through the first three games so far this season,” Oats said. “I’d like to see the assists numbers come up a little bit, but he was good.”

Freshman forward Ikenna Smart remains in the starting lineup but is still struggling to stay in games. He only played 15 minutes after getting into early foul trouble and was the only starter to not contribute a point.

Freshman guard CJ Massinburg added 17 points and three rebounds off the bench.

Buffalo continues with the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic Sunday when it takes on Vermont (2-2). Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.

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