As junior guard Davonta Jordan played full-court press on Saint Francis senior guard Jamaal King with just over seven minutes remaining in the first half, it was easy to tell the intensity from last season was back.
Jordan blocked the shot and then hit a corner three on the next possession to put the Bulls up 30-23.
Buffalo (1-0) defeated the Saint Francis Red Flash (0-1) 82-67 Tuesday afternoon. The Bulls found ways to remain ahead all game despite struggling from the three-point line. Buffalo pounded the ball in the paint and forced 18 turnovers on its way to victory.
“[Jeremy] Harris struggled, [Nick] Perkins struggled, CJ [Massinburg] struggled. All three of our main scorers struggled from the three-point line,” head coach Nate Oats said. “The good thing is we did enough to still win by 15. We still got 82 on the board when we couldn't make a shot.”
It was the fifth-straight year Buffalo won its season-opening game. Oats, senior guard CJ Massinburg and senior forward Nick Perkins are the only ones to remember the 109-49 win over Pittsburgh-Bradford four years ago.
In Massinburg and Perkins’ final season, neither could imagine the level of basketball they’re playing now compared to freshman year.
Two thirds of Buffalo’s big three have brought two Mid-American Conference Championships and its first NCAA Tournament win to the school and this season they’re expected to do even more.
Massinburg and Perkins returned to the court and combined for 27 points, 17 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks.
“It's good to have your brother’s back out there instead of trying to beat your brother down in practice,” Massinburg said.
The two will have more help than ever this season.
“The young guys got in and got some good minutes,” Perkins said. “It’s a lot of pressure coming out here, coming from high school.”
The Bulls brought in their highest-rated recruiting class ever this season. Freshmen Jeenathan Williams and Ronaldo Segu both contributed on Tuesday.
Segu was one of the first three off the bench and ran point guard while Jordan and sophomore guard Jayvon Graves went to the bench. Williams rotated in and out inconsistently in the first half.
The freshmen each played more in the second half. Williams attempted to show off his leaping ability but failed on what would have been a pair of electrifying dunks.
“Yeah we've all seen him in high school. He's supposed to be a high flying freak and comes out and looks like me and you jumping,” Oats joked.
Williams wouldn’t have been able to laugh off those misses if not for a 24-6 run beginning with 12:09 remaining in the second half.
Up just one point, the Bulls knocked down three of their seven three-pointers for the game during the run. Senior Jeremy Harris hit only his second three of the game on 11 attempts.
“Shooting is not going to be there every night,” Perkins said. “The only thing you can really count on is playing hard, playing good defense and rebounding. I think we did all of that really well tonight and that's why we won. We have a really good shooting team, shots are going to fall.”
Graves was a surprise starter for the opening night. The Bulls are the deepest at guards with Graves, Jordan, Massinburg, Segu and senior Dontay Caruthers all able to play. Graves earned the position because he is steady and solid, according to Oats.
Oats also wants to have at least one of Jordan and Caruthers on the floor at all times. Oats said they should be competing against each other for MAC defensive player of the year along with Eastern Michigan’s James Thompson IV.
The Bulls have one of their toughest matchups of the season on Friday against #13 West Virginia. For the Bulls to have a chance, they won’t be able to head into Morgantown and shoot the same way they did Tuesday, according to players and Oats.
The matchup is scheduled to tip at 9 p.m.
Nathaniel Mendelson is the sports editor and can be reached at and on Twitter @NateMendelson