BUFFALO, NY — There’s nothing quite like a crosstown rivalry game to tip off the 2017-18 regular season.
Saturday afternoon, the Canisius Golden Griffins and Buffalo Bulls went head-to-head in a Big Four rivalry game. With both schools located in the city of Buffalo, bragging rights between the two student bodies were also on the line.
Heading into the season, Buffalo was projected by many to contend for a MAC title. The Bulls return an experienced roster, led by forward Nick Perkins and guard CJ Massinburg, and they added guard Jeremy Harris, who was the second-ranked JUCO player in the country a season ago.
Canisius, on the other hand, was considered to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the MAAC. They do, however, return arguably the best young back court in the MAAC, with sophomores Isaiah Reese, Malik Johnson, and Spencer Foley all ready to take starring roles with the team.
On Saturday, only one team could come away victorious. The game was knotted up at 73-all with 3:15 to play. The Bulls closed the game on a 7-2 run over the final three-plus minutes, notching their first win of the season with an 80-75 victory in the process.
Perkins led the way with 26 points and six rebounds for the Bulls, while guard Takal Molson scored a team-high 25 points to lead Canisius.
It was an evenly matched game from the start. Neither team held a lead that was larger than eight points during the opening frame. A layup from Harris with 9:23 left in the first half gave the Bulls a 31-23 advantage.
Canisius would keep the game close, and they took a brief one-point lead on a three pointer from Foley with just over four minutes to play in the half. The teams would trade baskets the rest of the way, and the Bulls took a three point lead into the break, at 42-39.
The second half was more of the same, as neither team was able to pull away and create some separation.
With 4:09 to play in the game, a pair of free throws from Reese gave the Golden Griffins a five-point lead. It was the third time they held a five-point lead in the second half alone, but Buffalo wouldn’t let them get any further ahead.
Harris answered with a three pointer for the Bulls on the next possession, and Massinburg hit a pair of free throws with 3:15 to play that tied the game at 73-all. Timely free throw shooting from the Bulls down the stretch, coupled with some untimely misses from Canisius, pushed Buffalo ahead for good.
The Bulls notched an 80-75 win over their crosstown rivals to open the 2017-18 season.
Perkins set a new career-high with his 26 points. Guard Davonta Jordan chipped in with 16 points, which was also a career-high, to go along with eight rebounds.
Reese recorded 20 points and five rebounds for Canisius, and went a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the loss. The Golden Griffins only got nine points of combined production from their bench on the afternoon.
Canisius (0-1) will close out a mini two-game road trip to start the season on Tuesday night when they take on the Air Force Falcons.
The win for Buffalo (1-0) kicked off a mini two-game home swing in advance of the 2017 Cayman Islands Classic. The Bulls welcome the Jacksonville State Gamecocks to town on Wednesday, which is in conjunction with the Cayman Islands Classic.
– T. Bennett