Big 4 Basketball Update: Bulls struggles continue, Reese’s future uncertain at Canisius

This will be a weekly feature published every Sunday on From the 300 Level and will include recaps, podcasts and any other additional Big 4 Basketball content we can think of. You can follow Mike Bundt on Twitter @Mike_Bundt.

What a crazy week it was in the Big Four!

  • Buffalo was upset on the road at Bowling Green. 
  • St. Bonaventure fell to Davidson in front of a crazy “White Out” crowd at the Reilly Center. 
  • Canisius is pushing forward despite their issues with star guard Isaiah Reese who is currently suspended indefinitely.
  • Niagara took down the Griffs in their annual rivalry matchup, setting up an interesting ride for the Purple Eagles down the stretch

With that said, here’s another edition of Stock Up, Stock Down! 

Teams: Buffalo, St. Bonaventure, Niagara, Canisius

Week: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Stock Down! 

#18 Buffalo: 19-3 (7-2), Last Week: Win vs. Ball State, Loss at Bowling Green

No one ever said Buffalo’s journey was going to be easy!

That much has been evident during the past two weeks with three of the their four games going down to wire, the exception being their dominating home victory over Ball State on Tuesday evening.

We’ll skip over that contest for now.

BOWLING GREEN, OH – FEBRUARY 01: Buffalo Bulls head coach Nate Oats watches the action on the court during a regular season Mid-American Conference game between the Buffalo Bulls (18) and the Bowling Green Falcons on February 1, 2019, at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It’s VERY tough to win on the road in the Mid-American Conference. All three of the games I mentioned above took place away from the friendly confines of Alumni Arena.

The result, Buffalo suffered their first two losses of conference play against Northern Illinois and  Bowling Green while squeaking past Kent State.

Falcons fans brought their A+ game on Friday night, selling out the Stroh Center with 5,000 in attendance, the largest crowd in the arena’s seven year history.

Their fans ended up getting their money’s worth. Buffalo jumped out to a eight-point halftime lead but really struggled after the break, allowing Bowling Green to score 53 points during the final 20 minutes in a 92-88 upset loss.

Give credit to the Falcons. They did everything they needed to win and deserved the victory.

Dylan Frye (25 points) and Justin Turner (22 points) combined for 47 points on 18-29 shooting while Demajeo Wiggins posted a double-double, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Bowling Green is the hottest team in the MAC and they were on fire on Friday evening. They hit 50.8% of their shots as they took over sole possession of first place in the MAC East.

BOWLING GREEN, OH – FEBRUARY 01: Buffalo Bulls guard Dontay Caruthers (22) drives to the basket against Bowling Green Falcons guard Justin Turner (10) during a regular season Mid-American Conference game between the Buffalo Bulls (18) and the Bowling Green Falcons on February 1, 2019, at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, Ohio. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dontay Caruthers and CJ Massinburg did their best to keep the Bulls within striking distance. Massinburg scored 26 points, staying consistent with the theme of him being the Bulls go-to player when the going gets tough.

Caruthers is starting to embrace that role as well. The Rochester native is coming off the best two-game stretch of his Buffalo career. 

He scored 21 points against Ball State on Tuesday, then followed that up with a 28 point effort against Bowling Green, going 8 of 9 from the field, adding seven rebounds.

The Bulls need him to continue playing at a high level, especially with Jeremy Harris and Nick Perkins struggling recently.

Harris averaged 5.5 points per game last week, shooting 5-22 from the field while Perkins chipped in 6.5 points on 4-15 shooting. 

Despite their shooting woes, both contributed on the boards with Harris bringing down 19 rebounds during the Bulls pair of games last week.

I’ll briefly recap Buffalo’s win over the Cardinals.

Home sweet home!

That’s all that needs to be said. The Bulls looked MUCH more comfortable at Alumni Arena and that makes perfect sense. That’s the case for 99% of teams across the country.

UB smoked Ball State on Tuesday evening.

BUFFALO, NY – JANUARY 29: Ball State Cardinals Guard Tayler Persons (2) dribbles the ball with Buffalo Bulls Guard Dontay Caruthers (22) defending during the first half of the Ball State Cardinals versus the Buffalo Bulls game on January 29, 2019, at Alumni Arena, Buffalo, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

They held the Cardinals best player, Tayler Persons to six points and three assists on 2-12 shooting.

It was all part of a dominating defensive effort by the Bulls, holding Ball State to under 60 points on 32% from the field.

The Cardinals couldn’t buy a shot from deep, shooting 2-23 (8.7%) from behind the arc, part of the reason why it was UB’s best defensive performance of the season.

Caruthers was a scoring machine while Massinburg, Jayvon Graves and Davonta Jordan all added meaningful contributions.

With the weekly split, the Bulls now sit at 19-3 (7-2) which brings us to another edition of Poll Watch.

Poll Watch:

This week’s Poll Watch is going to being more speculative than in recent weeks.

That’s because I have no clue how pollsters are going to react to the Bulls latest loss on the road against Bowling Green. 

MAC fans know how difficult it is to win on the road. They also know that the Falcons are having their best season in forever.

It was never going to be easy for UB to leave the Stroh Center with a victory but I’m not sure AP voters will understand that.

They were very forgiving following Buffalo’s loss to Northern Illinois last week, dropping them only four spots to 18th. I’m not so sure they’ll be as understanding this time around.

It would be a different scenario if they hadn’t dropped conference games in back-to-back weeks. For that reason alone, I have the Bulls dropping out of the AP Top 25, becoming one of the first few teams out.

That said, I still think they’re safely on the right side of the bubble conversation. One more regulation season loss and things will get a bit dicey moving forward but they’re still in good shape at the moment.

Quick Facts: 

  • Prior to their loss versus Bowling Green, the Bulls had won nine straight in the season series, scoring an average of 85.7 points per game during the winning streak.
  • The Bulls next win will be their 20th, marking just the eighth time in school history that UB has won 20 or more games in a season and the fourth time in the last five years.
  • Senior Nick Perkins played in his 125th career game on Friday night, moving into a third place tie with Titus Robinson (2008-12) for games played.

Next Week: vs. Central Michigan

Stock Neutral!

St. Bonaventure: 8-13 (4-4), Last Week: Loss vs. Davidson

The Reilly Center was electric on Friday night!

It helped St. Bonaventure in the first half. After a slow start against Davidson, the Bonnies responded with a tidal wave in the final 10 minutes of the first half, taking a 10 point lead into the half.

First, they used a 15-0 run, turning a 24-16 deficit into a 31-24 advantage. Moments later, they went on another spurt, going on an 11-2 run entering the break.

In total, St. Bonaventure outscored Davidson 30-13 over the course of the final 10 minutes of the first half, heading into halftime up 44-34.

Unfortunately, that momentum didn’t carry into the locker room. The Wildcats opened the second half on an 11-2 run, quickly playing their way back into the game.

Davidson head coach Bob McKillop switched to a zone in the second half of the Wildcats win over St. Bonaventure.

A big part of their success was the result of Davidson head coach Bob McKillop switching to a zone.

The Bonnies generated plenty of open looks but unfortunately couldn’t connect on many of them. 

After scoring 44 points in the first half, St. Bonaventure managed just 22 points in the second half, shooting 8-27 (29.6%) from the field, going 1-11 (9.1%) from deep.

Simultaneously, Davidson caught fire with Kellan Grady showing why he’s one of the top scorers in the Atlantic 10.

The dynamic sophomore scored 17 of his 29 points after the break, combining to score 30 points with teammate Jon Axel Gudmundsson in the second half.

More than half of the Wildcats field goals came from deep with Davidson connecting on 14 threes.

Kyle Lofton and Courtney Stockard did their best to keep St. Bonaventure in the game. The two combined for 42 points on the night with Lofton tying his career-high with 24 points.

The freshman sensation went 10-18 from the field, adding three rebounds, three assists and four steals, showing a national television audience why he’s one of the top young players in the Atlantic 10.

Stockard had a well rounded effort as well, posting 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

The issue for the Bonnies is that they don’t have enough secondary scoring. I’ve mentioned this in past and it continues to be an issue. 

Bonnies senior forward LaDarien Griffin.

LaDarien Griffin is a very talented player but can’t be depended on as a high volume scorer.

The same can also be said of Osun Osunniyi and Dominick Welch, although that’s likely to change in the future. I’m a big fan of both freshmen and believe they’re going to play vital roles for the Bonnies moving forward.

Right now though, they’re both going through their ups and downs. Osunniyi had a nice performance against the Wildcats, posting eight points and four blocks while Welch went scoreless in 11 minutes of action.

Entering this season, St. Bonaventure knew they needed to have Jalen Poyser and Nelson Kaputo step up in order to be successful. With Poyser out and Kaputo not really elevating his game, it’s been up to the Bonnies freshmen to fill the void.

The early returns look promising but you have to keep level headed when evaluating the Bonnies talented youngsters.

The good news, St. Bonaventure’s future looks bright and they have enough talent to squeak by as a middle of the pack Atlantic 10 team heading into March.

White Out Experience:

Not that this is any surprise but the Reilly Center was rowdy once again on Friday evening against Davidson.

The “White Out” crowd was alive from start to finish, really giving the Bonnies a boost. It was my first time covering a Bona home game (I’ve called a Canisius/St. Bonaventure game for Buffalo radio) and I had a blast.

The media sits right behind the basket in front of the Bona student section. They can be a bit crazy at times (understatement) but it sure is fun to be around them.

St. Bonaventure fans made the Reilly Center an electric atmosphere on national television. I can’t wait to go back!

Quick Facts:

  • St. Bonaventure scored 44 points in the first half against Davidson, the most they’ve scored in the first half of any game this season.
  • Kyle Lofton tied his career-high with 24 points against the Wildcats

Next Week: at Duquesne, vs. VCU

Stock “What the hell is going on?”

Canisius: 9-12 (6-3), Last Week: Loss at Niagara, Win vs. Quinnipiac

File this under: “What the hell is going on?”

While the Buffalo area was battling a blizzard on Wednesday evening, Canisius was dealing with their own blizzard on and off the court.

They entered their rivalry contest against Niagara on a three-game winning streak but then something odd took place at the Gallagher Center.

TALLAHASSEE, FL – NOVEMBER 19: Isaiah Reese (13) guard Canisius College Golden Griffins works the corner against PJ Savoy (5) guard Florida State University (FSU) Seminoles, Monday, November 19, 2018, at the Donald L Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Their star guard, Isaiah Reese played only 7:50 of the Griffs 78-70 loss against the Purple Eagles, sitting the entire second half.

He wasn’t dealing with an injury and wasn’t in foul trouble so why was he sitting during the crucial moments of a critical game for Canisius?

The answer appears to be much deeper than what’s known at the moment. There’s a bunch of speculation that I don’t want to dive into at this time.

What is apparent, it appears there’s growing discontent between Isaiah Reese and Canisius head coach Reggie Witherspoon.

One observer at the Niagara contest remarked how Reese kept moving away from Witherspoon following his benching.

Two days later, the team announced that their star would be suspended indefinitely. I reached out to the administration for comment, asking if Reese was still enrolled with the program (rumors online were circling that he had quit the team).

I’ve been told he is still with the program and there is no update on his indefinite suspension. It’s not a good look for Reese or Canisius regardless of how this plays out.

The Griffs are in the middle of an important MAAC run. They’re sitting at 6-3 overall with nine conference games remaining. They’ll need Reese to return if they want any shot at winning the regular season title.

Right now, I’m not too sure they’ll have him.

Conference Race

Let’s refocus on the actual games.

Wednesday was a brutal result for Canisius. It’s never easy for the Griffs to win at Niagara but it was even more difficult without their star playing the majority of the game.

The Golden Griffins limped into halftime down 42-27. They had no answer for Purple Eagles star Marvin Prochet who had another strong effort, finishing with 23 points.

But then something surprising happened. Minus Reese, Canisius fought their way back into the game, using a 9-0 run to get within four.

Both teams traded runs throughout the night with Canisius cutting the Purple Eagles lead down to 72-70 but that would be as close the Griffs would get.

Malik Johnson had a huge game facilitating the Griffs offense, barely missing out on a double-double, recording 12 points and nine assists. Jonathan Sanks posted 16 points while Jibreel Faulkner finished with 13.

On Friday, Canisius returned to action in a big home matchup against Quinnipiac. It was a tightly contested game with the Griffs jumping out to a very fast start before squeaking by the Bobcats 75-70.

Jordan Henderson (14 points) and Malik Johnson (11 points, six assists) both went off in the first half, combining for 25 points.

It was a different story after the break. Canisius shot 28.6% during the final 20 minutes, barely holding on.

Thankfully, Takal Molson carried the Griffs on his shoulders, scoring 17 of his team-high 22 points after the break to help Canisius win their sixth conference game of the season.

Big Week Ahead:

So where does Canisius go from here? We’ll see. A lot will be dependent on how they respond to the Isaiah Reese situation.

The Griffs have three games during the next seven days. They’re home versus Marist on Monday before taking on Rider in a HUGE conference matchup with league title implications on Friday. They finish off their week on Sunday at St. Peter’s.

Quick Facts:

  • Wednesday was the 184th all-time meeting between the two long-time rivals, with Niagara leading the series 101-83.
  • Molson scored nine points in the Niagara loss, ending his string of scoring in double-figures at 23-straight games, dating back to last season.
  • The nine assists for Johnson on Friday gives him 381 for his career, which ranks sixth in school history.

Next Week: vs. Marist, at Rider, at St. Peter’s

Stock Neutral!

Niagara: 11-12 (4-6), Last Week: Win vs. Canisius, Loss vs. Quinnipiac

It was shaping up to be a great week for Niagara.

The Purple Eagles took down their rivals (Canisius) in front of a packed house at the Gallagher Center on Wednesday evening, improving to .500 for the first time since January 11th.

Marvin Prochet had a masterful performance, extending his streak of 20+ point games to four.

Then on Sunday, they welcomed a Bobcats team to Lewiston that they already defeated in Connecticut earlier this season.

Aided by a three-quarter court, buzzer-beater by freshman guard Marcus Hammond, Niagara took a 41-38 lead into the half.

Marcus Hammond hit a 3/4 court, buzzer-beater to give Niagara a 41-38 lead heading into halftime. Courtesy: @NiagaraMBB

The Purple Eagles carried that momentum into the start of the second half, using a 5-0 run to extend their lead to eight but that’s when the game took a turn for the worst.

Quinnipiac went on a 9-0 run, holding Niagara scoreless for nearly four minutes.

It was back-and-forth affair for the next 10 minutes until the Bobcats broke the game open on a 15-2 run, taking a 74-63 lead with 3:47 remaining. 

Niagara would go on to lose 84-73, falling to 11-12 (4-6) overall. It’s a tough pill for the Purple Eagles to swallow.

They had an opportunity to jump right back into the conference race. Sure, they were never going to compete for a top three spot in the MAAC Tournament but they had a golden opportunity to fight for the four-seed.

Dominic Robb with another rejection! Courtesy: @NiagaraMBB

With a win over the Bobcats, Niagara would’ve owned the tiebreaker with Quinnipiac and sat in good position moving forward.

Instead, the narrative remains the same. The Purple Eagles have been frustratingly inconsistent this season, unable to pair together a solid stretch of games.

That said, I still want to give them credit for how they looked against Canisius. Marvin Prochet, Dominic Robb and James Towns looked like the leaders they need to be on the court with Greg King adding great minutes off the bench.

Niagara has shown they can compete with the top teams in the MAAC. Their issue is they don’t consistently show up against the rest of the conference.

That’ll need to change down the stretch if Niagara is going to have any chance at making a tournament run in March.

Quick Facts:

  • The Purple Eagles have now won four of its last five contests against the Golden Griffins dating back to the start of the 2016-17 season.
  • Marvin Prochet’s four consecutive games scoring over 20 points are the most for Niagara since Kahlil Dukes recorded four such games at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. 
  • Wednesday night’s 15-point lead at the half (42-27) is Niagara’s largest lead going into the break this season.

Next Week: at Marist, at Iona

Facts courtesy of the Buffalo, Niagara, St. Bonaventure and Niagara athletic departments.

Posted by Michael Bundt

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