UB's trip to Toronto was a chance for the NCAA to showcase some of its brightest to an up-north crowd.
While the trip up Queen Elizabeth Way wasn’t a long one for the men's basketball team, UB’s guards helped put an extra stamp on their passport Saturday: a big “W” against Harvard.
The Bulls (2-1) beat Harvard (3-2) 88-76 thanks to a blizzard of points from guards Ronaldo Segu, Antwain Johnson and Jayvon Graves. The trio combined for 58 points on the game as the team took advantage of turnovers and fast breaks throughout. The game was part of the James Naismith Classic, a basketball showcase that featured two other matchups at the Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto.
“We’re a good shooting team when we move the ball, we had 20 assists which is good. We ended up shooting the three really well, the extra pass is prevalent for us,” said head coach Jim Whitesell. “Defensively, we had some good sequences there to give us a little bit of a cushion.”
The game started out shaky for the Bulls in the first seven minutes. Harvard chirped to an early 12-3 lead against the Bulls, whose turnovers and missed three-pointers cost them the advantage.
Halfway through the first, Buffalo positioned itself closer to Harvard. Segu capped off a 13-5 run with a three, trimming Harvard’s lead to 17-16 with 10 minutes left in the first.
The two teams were neck and neck in the first, as Harvard took advantage of second chances all half. Harvard knocked in 14 points after missed shots compared to UB’s 6 points off second chances in the first.
As halftime approached, a Graves dunk followed by a Gabe Grant three and a Graves jumper got the Bulls within one score as Harvard led 28-25 with 5:16 left before half. The two squads went back and forth just before forward LaQuill Hardnett grabbed a board.
And once Graves got the ball in his hands with seconds left, he nailed the three to give UB a push into the final half.
Harvard kept it close with the Bulls at the start of the second. Johnson shined with a three and dunk (with the dish from Davonta Jordan), respectively, that nudged the team ahead of the Ivy Leaguers 51-48 with 15:13 left.
Johnson dazzled with a pair of threes in the minutes after as UB cemented a 67-54 lead with about 10 minutes left.
The Bulls shot better in the second half, nailing eight three-pointers in the second (compared to Harvard, which shot 3-10 in the second) and were near perfect from the free-throw line (6-7). Johnson led the Bulls with 15 points from behind the arc. A fire-hot performance by Segu was turned up thanks to his perfect aim from three (3-3) and from the free-throw line (6-6).
Segu put on a show in the final four minutes of the game as the Bulls capped off their night in Ontario.
“Ronaldo is real big time, he makes the right plays most of the time. Whenever you need to stop someone, you know you could count on him,” Johnson said.
The Bulls look to hold onto their positive free-throw and three-point groove going into Thursday when the team plays UConn (1-1) in the Charleston Classic.
As for Saturday’s game, Whitesell said the win “definitely” helps “improve” team spirit going down to South Carolina.
“[UConn] we all know is going to be an awfully tough opponent, so I do think it helps our guys get a little more confidence,” Whitesell said.“I think that’s the biggest thing with us, you want to build off that ... .”
Benjamin Blanchet is the senior engagement editor for The Spectrum. His words have been seen in The Buffalo News (Gusto) and The Sun newspapers of Western New York. Loves cryptoquip and double-doubles.