With Jeremy Harris and the rest of Buffalo’s offense misfiring, the senior guard took comfort in knowing the Bulls could still rely on their defense.
“I think that’s the reason why we’re so good, is because we’ve got so many good players that can break out any given night,” Harris said. “It’s fun playing with these guys. We’re all unselfish.”
Harris scored 17 points and No. 19 Buffalo shook off a cold-shooting start to cruise past Miami (Ohio) 88-64 on Saturday.
The Bulls (15-1, 3-0 Mid-American Conference) extended their school-best home winning streak to 19, dating to a 73-62 loss to St. Bonaventure on Dec. 2, 2017. Buffalo has won 15 of its first 16 games for the second time in school history after going 15-1 in a 16-game season in 1929-30.
The Bulls won despite their leading scorer, C.J. Massinburg, hitting 2 of 7 for 10 points, and an offense that missed 12 of its final 13 shots over the final 10:49 of the first half.
The difference was Dontay Caruthers coming off the bench to shut down the RedHawks’ top threat, Nike Sibande, in the first half. Caruthers then helped seal the game by scoring six consecutive points — two off steals — to cap a 19-2 run that put Buffalo ahead 63-42 with 8:34 left.
“When I started Caruthers in the second half, I thought he completely turned the game around,” coach Nate Oats said. “He comes downhill at you so hard on offense. He creates turnovers, gets us out in transition. And that’s when we’re at our best.”
Caruthers had 11 points, six assists, six rebounds and finished with a game-high three steals. Nick Perkins scored 12 points before hobbling off with what Oats called a Grade 1 sprained left ankle.
Sibande finished with 18 points, seven coming in the first three minutes before Caruthers entered the game. Darrian Ringo had 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the RedHawks (8-8, 0-3).
Miami coach Jack Owens said the difference was experience. While he has a rebuilding team starting three sophomores, Buffalo features a senior-laden lineup.
“They started the second half with five seniors on the court at once, where they really turned up the heat, where we have to get better is executing against that pressure,” he said.
The RedHawks were the last MAC team to beat Buffalo, with an 84-81 win at Oxford, Ohio, on Feb. 20. Owens got a firsthand glimpse of how much better the Bulls are this year.
“I think they have a team that can get to a Final Four,” he said.
Miami kept the game close by hitting 50 percent of its shots through the first 26 minutes, which slowed the pace of the game and prevented Buffalo from turning to its potent transition attack.
The wheels fell off the RedHawks after Mekhi Lairy scored on layup to cut Buffalo’s lead to 44-40 with 14:29 remaining.
The Bulls responded with Perkins taking control down low at the offensive end. He scored seven of Buffalo’s next 10 points over a 3 1/2-minute span before leaving the game with 10:30 left. Perkins had just scored a contested layup at the left post when he had his leg kicked out from behind him by Sibande.
Perkins returned to the bench with about eight minutes left. Oats said there’s a possibility he can return to practice on Monday and play the following day at Western Michigan.
Four days after scoring a career-best 34 points in a 110-80 win over Toledo, Harris was in for a family reunion. His mother, Nancy, traveled from North Carolina for the game Saturday and spent the pre-game warmup hiding in Oats’ office so she could surprise her son following the game.
Miami: A young rebuilding team that starts three sophomores showed resolve in playing Buffalo tough into the second half. Junior forward Bam Bowman particularly caused Buffalo’s problems from scoring in the paint.
Buffalo: The Bulls deserve credit for leaning on their defense to keep them in a game until their offense finally found its legs. Buffalo has now outscored its first three MAC opponents by a combined 272-202, putting the Bulls in a position to inch up in the rankings.
Miami: At Toledo on Tuesday night.
Buffalo: At Western Michigan on Tuesday night.