UB Bulls eke out victory over Toledo

Buffalo has won four of last five conference matchups


Head coach Nate Oats didn’t want to see a repeat of the men’s basketball team’s dismal matchup against Western Michigan ever again.

So much so, he preached all week to his players to get more hours in the gym to work on the basics of the game.

It worked.

“I kept telling our guys to get in the gym. We have to make shots, we have to keep making shots,” Oats said. “Our defense can keep us in the game, but our offense is going to have to win us some games sometimes.”

On Saturday, the Bulls (12-9, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) defeated Toledo (12-9, 3-5 MAC) 73-68 in a tightly contested game at Savage Arena in Toledo, Ohio. The Bulls are now winners of two straight games after a blowout loss to Western Michigan last weekend. They have held conference opponents to under 70 points in four of their last five games, going 4-1 in the process.

Overall, Buffalo went 9 of 24 from three-point range, while Toledo went just 6 of 25. The three-point shooting was a key to the game, according to Oats.

“If you look at the stats tonight, the way they shot it from three and the way we shot it from three, that was the difference,” Oats said.

Toledo center Nathan Boothe was one of the key players Oats and his coaching staff eyed as a difference maker heading into the game, as he was averaging 19.6 points and nine rebounds heading into the game. Boothe finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, but overall, Oats was impressed with the performance his post players had against the potential MAC Player of the Year.

“Boothe came in playing well. I thought we did a good job of mixing it up against him,” Oats said. “We had three bigs who rotated and made things difficult for him. Make him work further out … I thought we did a good job on executing our game plan against him.”

The Bulls committed 22 total fouls, with several players getting into foul trouble. Junior wing Blake Hamilton had four fouls, while three Buffalo players – guard CJ Massinburg, junior wing Willie Conner and freshman forward Ikenna Smart – all had three. Oats was able to play some of his main rotation players, but also staggered minutes with players like freshman guard Nikola Rakicevic.

Hamilton led the way for the Bulls, finishing with a team-high 17 points, seven rebounds and three steals.

“I thought it was a great road win,” Oats said. “They’re a good team with a lot of offensive firepower, we came out with a ton of energy and guarded well. I thought Blake played well, got a matchup that benefitted him. Thought our guys came to play tonight.”

Sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden finished with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Massinburg scored 13 points, grabbed four rebounds and played great defense with four steals. Senior forward/guard Rodell Wigginton had 10 points and eight rebounds off the bench.

The game also marked the return of junior forward David Kadiri, who missed the previous game with an ankle injury. Kadiri scored two points and grabbed one rebound in 10 minutes of game action off the bench.

And he wasn’t the only bench player to make a difference.

“I thought [our bench] was huge,” Oats said. “Rodell came in and almost got a double-double. C.J. told me tonight was his night, he wasn’t playing well in conference play, but he played well for us. Kadiri got a big dunk for us late and I thought our entire bench played well.”

The Bulls travel to DeKalb, Illinois to face Northern Illinois (16-5, 5-3 MAC) on Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m.

Quentin Haynes is a co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubsectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @HaynesTheWriter.