UB Bulls rout Pittsburgh-Bradford in first game of the Nate Oats era

Bulls defeat Panthers by 60 points

Even first-year head coach Nate Oats said he knew the men’s basketball team would win its season opener.

But he may not have known how dominating the victory would be.

The Bulls (1-0) routed Division-III Pittsburgh-Bradford (0-1) 109-49 in Alumni Arena to open the 2015-16 season Friday night. Buffalo shot more than 50 percent and had six players score double-digits in what was Oats’ first game and win as head coach.

Even with the personnel losses this offseason, Oats said he felt the team was good enough to beat a lower opponent – and he was right.

But he was not fully content.

“I told the guys before we could play poorly and beat the team. But I didn’t want to see that,” Oats said. “I wanted to see that we had some stuff to clean up from the Daemen game. Our turnovers were significantly lower. I thought we gave up too many offensive rebounds.”

Four of Buffalo’s six double-digit scorers were new to the team. Freshmen CJ Massinburg and Nick Perkins, as well as junior college transfers Willie Conner and Blake Hamilton, combined to score 62 points and only turned the ball over four times.

But it was a veteran who stole the show.

Senior forward Rodell Wigginton scored a career-high 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting and added 10 rebounds. Oats said he was skeptical playing Wigginton heavy minutes because of the forward’s lingering ankle injury. He had not even played in a full practice this season.

But he played in 20 minutes on Friday in his first test run of the season

“I felt like I let my game come to me tonight,” Wigginton said. “Sometimes, I rush my game. But tonight, I just let it come to me really.”

On two separate occasions, the Bulls scored at least 22 unanswered points. Buffalo began the game on a 26-0 run before the Panthers put in their first basket with 11:26 left in the first half. During the stretch, Massinburg, a guard, continued his impressive play and scored 10 straight points. Last Friday, he scored 11 points in a row.

“I just try to come out with as much intensity and high energy,” Massinburg said. “Usually, when I’m playing really hard, good things happen. I just have to stay aggressive.”

The Bulls’ second stretch came later in the half with Buffalo already up by 23 points. With 6:55 remaining, the Bulls scored 22 unanswered points until there was 1:18 left in the half. During that stretch, Buffalo managed to score as many points through that point of the game as the Panthers did for the entirety.

Hamilton, a junior wing, contributed 21 points and seven rebounds – exactly what Oats wants out of him. Hamilton said Oats looks at him as a versatile guard for his height and excelled ball handling. He was also content with his performance after a preseason game where he only scored one point while battling foul trouble.

Oats used Friday’s game to sample his new system. He wanted to see what worked and what didn’t work. And one of his main concerns is rebounding.

Buffalo outrebounded Pitt-Bradford 49-34 on the night. It may seem like a big number, but there were only three players on the Panthers that exceeded 6-foot-1. Buffalo’s big men like Perkins and freshmen forward Ikenna Smart only accounted for 10 rebounds combined.

Buffalo also only outrebounded Pitt-Bradford by four on the offensive glass.

“We should’ve done better on the defensive end as a team,” Wigginton said. “But I feel as we progress throughout the season, we’re going to get better.”

The team may progress, but it may have to do so without one its defensive stalwarts.

Senior forward Raheem Johnson may be out for longer than his one-game suspension. He injured his foot last week, could be seen in a walking boot on the sidelines Friday and may be out for an extended period of time.

Oats rotated 11 players in and out of the lineup all night, up from what he wants his standard to be.

“We’re going to wait and see how it goes,” Oats said about the amount of rotation players he’ll have. “We have 12 scholarship guys. I’ve never coached a team with a 12-man rotation, so I highly doubt we’ll have a 12-man rotation. So somebody is going to have to beat someone out here.”

Oats kept junior forward David Kadiri out of the game as precautionary. Kadiri is battling a knee injury and Oats said he hasn’t made the progress he had hoped to see. Oats said he “wasn’t quite right” and the coaching staff decided to shut him down for a couple of days.

Oats called senior guard Jarryn Skeete’s performance “so-so,” but he is not concerned. Oats is aware of what Skeete can do for the team in high-pressure situations, citing his four 3-pointers when Buffalo played Kentucky last season.

Skeete finished with five points on 2-of-9 shooting.

Buffalo’s performance was surprising, even against a Division-III opponent. The 60-point scoring differential was the biggest margin of victory for Buffalo in more than 46 years. Buffalo led by as much as 66 points at one point in the game.

“These types of games are games you can’t take for granted,” Hamilton said. “Us being the team we are, we have to enforce our will. This was just a game where we come out and prepare ourselves. We have to prepare ourselves for the long season.”

Buffalo continues its season in Uncasville, Connecticut for two games in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic beginning next week. The Bulls’ first matchup is against Old Dominion (1-0) on Monday at 7 p.m.

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