After a string of cancellations and rescheduled opponents, UB men’s basketball finally hit the court for the first time Friday afternoon.
The Bulls defeated the Towson Tigers 74-65 inside “Bubbleville” at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT.
With all coaches required to wear masks and social distancing in full effect on the bench, Friday’s contest didn’t have the typical vibe of a college basketball game, but the teams’ gameplay overshadowed the grim silence of Mohegan Sun Arena.
As cancellations and postponements persist in a college basketball season that seems as uncertain as it seems possible, the opportunity to play is a privilege, not a right.
Competition has given players and coaches the chance to do what they love, and when it was taken away from them in March, UB promised they wouldn’t take it for granted.
“We’re all adjusting to masks, the different protocols, the way we sit, all those different things that are part of the world right now in athletics,” head coach Jim Whitesell said. “When you have an opportunity, this is our two hours you can really go and enjoy all that work you’ve been putting in.”
UB’s stars picked up right where they left off last season, with junior forward Jennathan Williams and senior guard Jayvon Graves leading the charge for the Bulls.
Graves scored 20 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished 5 assists while Williams reached a new career-high with 28 points. The Rochester native also came down with 12 rebounds.
Williams was dominant throughout the contest and was a major factor in UB’s ability to take control of the game from the opening tip. 54.5% from the field and a healthy 2-4 from three, Williams took whatever he wanted against the Tigers defense.
“I feel like I got a lot better from last year, I feel a lot more comfortable on the court,” Williams said after the career-high scoring performance. “Coach has given me the confidence to play my game, and I was just being aggressive on the boards like he always told me to do and everything else took care of itself.”
Williams’ rebounding has become a huge part of his play on both ends of the court, something Whitesell believes sparks his offensive play. His rebounding not only highlights a sense of engagement and tenacity but also generates confidence, leading to good shooting performances.
“Jeenathan always plays well when he rebounds well, they go together,” Whitesell said. “He shot the three very well today. But he didn't take too many. I thought he had a good mixture of what he did in his game.”
Senior center Brock Bertram also posted career highs against Towson. Bertram had career-best performances in both points and rebounds, scoring 8 points and grabbing 12 boards.
The Bulls played with a sense of balance and comfort that kept them composed whenever the game began to get away. If Towson would go on a run, UB would go on a run of its own.
Despite the convincing performance, Whitesell remains adamant about cleaning up mistakes and preparing for a tough Army team, a team that beat the Bulls 89-76 at Alumni Arena.
“We’re gonna have to play a little bit crisper with the ball at times against West Point tomorrow,” Whitesell said. “[We] beat a good opponent tonight in Towson and we’re grateful for the win so it’s a good start to the season.”
The Bulls face Army West Point tomorrow afternoon in another game at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.