No. 14 Buffalo hopes to beat Southern Illinois again
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No. 14 Buffalo has met all the challenges it has faced while reaching unprecedented heights in the national polls this season, and now comes another challenge -- beating an opponent for the second time in five weeks.
The Bulls, who entered the AP Top 25 after knocking off West Virginia in their second game of the season, beat Southern Illinois in Carbondale, Ill., on Nov. 12, when they overcame an eight-point deficit in the first half and shot only 35.5 percent from the field.
The rematch in Buffalo on Saturday comes at a different phase of the season for both.
The Bulls (9-0) remain one of nine undefeated teams in Division I and one of six with at least nine victories following an 80-62 payback victory at upstate New York rival St. Bonaventure last Saturday. The Bonnies had won seven of the last eight in the series and gave the Bulls their only home loss last season.
Southern Illinois (7-4) had a five-game winning streak snapped in an 80-52 blowout home loss to Murray State on Wednesday. The Racers, led by projected NBA lottery pick guard Ja Morant, held a 49-18 halftime lead.
Buffalo had a similar outburst against the Bonnies, leading by as many as 28 points after scoring the first three baskets of the second half.
Bulls sophomore guard Jayvon Graves had a season-high 19 points and made a career-high five 3-pointers at St. Bonaventure, three days after learning of the death of his paternal grandfather.
Graves returned to Ohio to spend time with family before returning to practice the day before the game.
"It meant a lot," Graves told reporters. "I made sure I dedicated this game to my grandpa. Probably the most difficult time of my life. That was just tough for me and my mom. She's lost both of her parents now, so I just wanted to do that for her."
Jeremy Harris had 18 points and leading scorer CJ Massinburg had 14 points and nine rebounds against the Bonnies.
"(Jayson) came out and played the game of his life," Buffalo coach Nate Oats told reporters. "To come out and perform like that, with that on his mind, I'm really happy.
"Today, we proved to ourselves, whether we're home or on the road or neutral, (if we) bring our A game we'll take care of business."
After the Southern Illinois game, the Bulls will have road tests at Syracuse of the ACC on Tuesday and Marquette of the Big East on Friday, which appears on paper to be their most challenging stretch of the season.
Buffalo is the first Mid-American Conference team to be ranked in the AP Top 25 for at least five consecutive weeks since Western Michigan went 25-3 and had a 14-game winning streak in 1975-76.
The Bulls are No. 13 in the NCAA's latest NET rankings.
Southern Illinois had won seven of eight following its loss to Buffalo before running into Murray State and Morant, one of the 15 players in Division I with a triple-double this season.
The Salukis will face another in Massinburg, who had 13 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a victory over Le Moyne on Dec. 5. Massinburg had seven points in the Bulls' earlier 62-53 over the Salukis this season. Kavion Pippen led Southern Illinois with 18.
SIU coach Barry Hinson is not likely to treat the preparation for the Bulls and Massinburg the same way he treated the Murray State game.
"I made a big mistake," he told reporters after the loss. "I put so much emphasis on Morant and how good we thought he was and I scared our players. Our guys played scared."
Senior forward Armon Fletcher, who leads the Salukis in scoring (13.5) and rebounding (6.0), missed the first Buffalo game after suffering a dislocated knee in the season opener against Kentucky.
A preseason All-Missouri Valley selection, Fletcher has played in only six games this season, missing the two most recent contests after a pair of 20-point games against Colorado State and SIU-Edwardsville.
The Salukis have a balanced attack, featuring four other players who are averaging at least 10.6 points. Eric McGill had 19 points and 10 rebounds against Murray State, the team's first double-double of the season.
Updated December 14, 2018