No. 25 Buffalo pulls away for 62-53 win at Southern Illinois
CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) — Ranked in the Top 25 for the first time in school history, Buffalo showed its staying power with another road win.
Montell McRae and Jeremy Harris each scored 11 points and No. 25 Buffalo pulled away for a 62-53 victory at Southern Illinois on Monday night.
"I talked to our guys about being a high-character team," Bulls coach Nate Oats said. "We could be really immature and come in with a poor attitude. After we got all the accolades and everything, how are we going to come in and respond to it? I thought they responded pretty well."
Buffalo was coming off a 99-94 overtime win at then-No. 13 West Virginia on Friday night, and the national ranking is the latest accolade for a program that's been transformed since Bobby Hurley was hired as head coach in 2013.
Oats was elevated from an assistant role after Hurley left for Arizona State and has helped Buffalo continue its success. The Bulls reached the NCAA Tournament in two of the past three seasons after Hurley led them there for the first time in 2015.
Buffalo came into this season with high expectations after losing just one key player, point guard Wes Clark, from a team that won a school-record 27 games and upset fourth-seeded Arizona as a No. 13 seed in the first round of last year's NCAAs.
"This is a great feat for the players that are here and the players that have been here in the past that helped build this," Oats said. "If we hadn't beaten Arizona last year in the NCAA Tournament, I don't know that people would be talking about us the way they are, so it's a tribute to the guys we have on this team that people all over are starting to recognize how hard we play and what we have been able to accomplish here."
Buffalo (3-0) overcame an eight-point deficit in the first half and won despite shooting 35.5 percent from the field, including 8 of 28 from 3-point range.
"It's a big win," said Davonta Jordan, who had nine points and five assists.
The Bulls had a 41-33 advantage on the glass and scored 23 points off 19 Salukis turnovers.
"We kind of out-toughed them, I felt a little bit, and they are a really tough team," Oats said. "We just had to grind out a win here."
Buffalo: The Bulls are 3-0 for the first time since 1986, when they played at the Division III level, and they've already bolstered their NCAA Tournament credentials with two impressive nonconference wins. More opportunities will come when Buffalo plays at No. 15 Syracuse on Dec. 15 and No. 24 Marquette on Dec. 21.
Southern Illinois: Picked to finish third in the Missouri Valley Conference after a second-place finish last season, the Salukis have held their own against two teams that won NCAA Tournament games last March. They held a lead in the second half of Friday night's 71-59 loss at then-No. 2 Kentucky.
Buffalo used an 11-0 run to take a 31-27 lead into halftime after trailing for most of the first 20 minutes.
Southern Illinois played without starting forward Armon Fletcher, its top returning scorer from last season. Fletcher hurt his knee in the season-opening loss at Kentucky.
CJ Massinburg followed up his 43-point, 14-rebound effort at West Virginia with seven points and a team-high six rebounds for Buffalo.
SEE YOU AGAIN
The teams will conclude their nonconference home-and-home series Dec. 15 in Buffalo.
Buffalo has an eight-day break before hosting Dartmouth on Nov. 21.
Southern Illinois will look for its first win Saturday against Arkansas Pine Bluff.