The regular season ended Friday for UB men’s basketball and one stat stood out among the rest.
UB led the nation in rebounding during the 2019-20 season, despite fielding a smaller lineup than some of its competitors.
The Bulls grabbed 42.16 rebounds per-game, outpacing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for the nation’s top spot. UB also ranks No. 2 for offensive rebounds and No. 47 for defensive boards.
“It’s always been something we’ve talked a lot about,” head coach Jim Whitesell said. “It’s been an emphasis all the time.”
The team has used its success on the offensive glass to rank 22nd in the nation in scoring, at 78.6 points per-game. But as much as the coaches may stress the importance of rebounding on the team’s fortunes, it’s the players who have executed the game plan to a tee.
“We’ve been told, ‘You have to rebound,’” senior guard Davonta Jordan said. “But at the end of the day, it all depends on how far you are willing to go to help your team.”
Rebounding is usually reserved for big men in basketball. But the Bulls typically only use two “big men” on the court: 6’11” center Brock Bertram and 6’7” forward Josh Mballa.
As a result, guards like Jordan and junior Jayvon Graves must play closer to the basket and grab boards of their own.
“We already know that we don’t have an actual true big,” Jordan said. “We have two guys that are fours playing the big. Coach always harps on this: guards rebounding down low. A lot of teams don’t even send their point guard to rebound. They tell them to stay back. We go down and help our bigs out with rebounding.”
Graves is currently second on the team, at 5.5 rebounds per-game. Jordan ranks third, at 5.2 boards.
“Jayvon is a naturally good defender,” Whitesell said. “When Jeenathan [Williams] plays his best games, he’s a good rebounder. Davonta [Jordan] is the third-leading rebounder on our team. As a point guard, that’s a little unheard of. It shows how versatile he is on the defensive end.”
Mballa has led the team in rebounding by a large margin, at 9.7 boards per-game. But he is regularly guarding taller players and has to be positionally sound on every rebound opportunity.
The coaching staff has emphasized the importance of pre-boxing or “finding your man and getting him out of the way,” as Jordan describes it. Once the ball hits the rim, Whitesell hopes his players have already boxed out defenders, giving UB an easy path to securing the ball.
“[Mballa] has done a great job, especially on the offensive boards,” Whitesell said. “He’s become a leader in that area. He’s setting the bar there. He’s doing a great job on the offensive end and the defensive end. He has a lot of double-doubles. It’s always impressive that way.”
Bertram’s return from a foot injury in early January has played an important role, too. He may not be the best scorer on the team, but his size and basketball IQ help him around the glass.
“Brock is real steady,” Whitesell said. “He’s going to know his assignments. He’s going to play within his capabilities. He’s done a really nice job on the defensive boards.”
As the Bulls look ahead to postseason play, they say they understand just how important it will be to dominate on the glass. Every possession has value in the MAC tournament. Ensuring that the other team doesn’t get second chances on offense, and that the Bulls do, will be a priority for Whitesell and his staff.
“It’s important,” Bertram said. “We play great defense. It’s hard to play 30 seconds, and then they get a rebound, and we have to play a whole other 30 seconds. That takes a lot of energy for one possession. Some nights, it’s how basketball is — we may not hit, but we get second-chance points. That helps.”
On Monday, the Bulls will host Miami (OH) at 7:30 p.m. in Alumni Arena for the first round of postseason play.
And they know exactly what they need to do to get the victory.
“We just need to keep being in position and getting rebounds,” Bertram said. “If we do that, we will always give ourselves a chance.”
Justin Weiss is the senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com.
Justin Weiss is the The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.