By Paul Gotham
BUFFALO, NY — Three games in as many days and four contests in little less than a week has a way of wearing on a team. Nobody knows this better than Reggie Witherspoon and his UB Bulls. After participating in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, Witherspoon finds himself focusing on who will play instead of how they will play.
With three players injured and another two limited, Witherspoon didn’t have many choices Tuesday night when his Bulls traveled cross-town for a Big 4 matchup with the Canisius Golden Griffins.
“I told my wife this morning I had this bad vision,” Witherspoon said in Tuesday’s post-game press conference. “Mr. Van Gundy was at Genesee Community College, and he finished a couple of games with four, three and one time he finished a game with two people. We could end up having seven people in uniform to start the game.”
“I do not remember playing five guys 75 percent of the minutes at any level,” Witherspoon said. “I don’t remember doing it. Not Jay Vee high school basketball, not high school basketball, not junior college, not here, never. If it happened, I don’t remember it. Even today I certainly didn’t plan on it.”
Starters Javon McCrea, Auraum Nuiriankh, Jarod Oldham, Corey Raley-Ross and Will Regan all logged more than 30 minutes of playing. Oldham led the way with 37.
“I really don’t pay too much mind to the minutes being played,” said Oldham, a junior guard. “I do go into the game knowing that we’re going to have to be smarter, and we got value possessions.”
After losing seniors Dave Barnett, Zach Filzen, Titus Robinson and Mitchell Watt, Witherspoon knew time would be needed for this year’s teams to come together. When senior guard Tony Watson went down with a twisted ankle, UB’s chances for progress took a hit. Add to that injuries to sophomore Xavier Ford, who scored 16 points versus Florida State, and freshmen Stan Weir, and the Bulls’ focus shifts from thriving to surviving.
“We have some good young players, but they haven’t been in situations” Witherspoon explained. “You hate to expose them to situations where one turnover could just swing the momentum clearly in the other direction.”
“We’re hoping on Tony every day,” Witherspoon continued. “He’s walking. He’s not on crutches anymore, but that’s a little different than cutting and moving.”
Cameron Downing and Richie Sebuharara were less than 100 percent Tuesday night. Downing played with stitches along the bridge of his nose the result of a collision with Weir in practice. Witherspoon turned to freshmen Jarryn Skeete and Andre McPhail.
“They don’t know each other in these game situations,” Witherspoon explained of his young squad. “We pretty well knew last year from the start of the year until the end of the year, if we’re down two with the ball, Dave Barnett is going to get his shot on the right wing. He knew that, so he got really good at that. The guys around him knew [to] set a screen for Dave to come off this way, and this is what we’re looking at. Now, it’s a different thing, and you gotta kinda build up to that.”
“We got to get guys in situations where they know it’s coming. We ran some of the same stuff in the last couple of games. The shot was there, but are you familiar enough? Are you comfortable enough? Is that rhythm, is that time in your clock. Did you visualize it enough to know it and sense it before it happens, so you anticipate it? That takes some time.”
McCrea led the Bulls with 22 points and six rebounds. Regan added 15 and six, but the Bulls fell to the Golden Griffins, 71-64.
UB gets some amount of rest. They remain home for their opener this Saturday against Mansfield. A 7 p.m. tipoff is scheduled. Next Wednesday Atlantic 10 powerhouse, Temple, comes to Alumni Arena for another 7 p.m. tip. The Bulls continue Big 4 play when they travel to St. Bonaventure on Saturday, December 1st.