DELUCA: Balanced, unselfish attack on offense has makings of a deep SUNYAC run


Dave DeLuca, Managing Editor

When Justin Mitchell graduated last May, Buffalo State men’s basketball had no replacement entering this season.

No one could be a threat to score from the post and the outside like Mitchell could. No one could command a double-team and kick the ball out to open shooters like Mitchell could. No one could, simply, score like Mitchell could.

Mitchell, a 6-foot-5, do-it-all forward, put together one of the best careers in Buffalo State history, but his void this season hasn’t been a problem for the Bengals.

Balance has been much of the reason why Buffalo State has won 10 of its last 11 games and sits at third place in the SUNYAC standings.

Mitchell averaged 20.5 points-per-game last season, en route to being named All-SUNYAC and All-Region, yet, Buffalo State has used a seven-man rotation to make Mitchell’s departure a non-factor.

Buffalo State has four players averaging double figures in points and two others on the cusp.

In a 60-54 win over Cortland on Friday, the Bengals had four players reach double digits in points. They followed that up with five players posting double figures in an 80-76 win over Oswego on Saturday.

The team’s balance on offense is coming in a lot of different ways, too.

Seniors Rod Epps (15.6 ppg) and Chris Cartwright (16.1 ppg) have teamed up to form what looks like the best backcourt in the SUNYAC.

Cartwright played for the Bengals during the 2010-11 season, but stepped away from school because of personal reasons. Since his return, Buffalo State is 8-1 and now leads the conference in offense, averaging 79.1 ppg.

Cartwright and Epps provide lethal shooting from the perimeter, as both rank near the top of the SUNYAC in three-point field goals made.

On the inside, senior Chris Thompson (11.2 ppg) and sophomore Lovell Smith (12 ppg) have provided the Bengals with quality post play and have excelled in scoring roles with their backs to the basket. Sophomore guard Jordan Glover (9.1 ppg) and senior forward Larry Rivers (9 ppg) have also been scoring threats.

That’s a pretty remarkable balance when you consider Smith and Glover are coming off the bench and junior Derrick Fernandez is starting.

Mitchell provided a go-to guy for Buffalo State head coach Fajri Ansari last season, but an unselfish, high-scoring offense has made Buffalo State a dangerous team for SUNYAC foes.

Any team looking to slow down one particular player better watch out for the other four on the court. Even if one of the Bengals’ key cogs gets in foul trouble, others have shown consistency and will be able to pick up the slack.

Great players can be thorns in opposing defense’s sides, but a team mixed with good players, that each fill a certain role, has the potential to be great.

Sure, first-place Plattsburgh is as good as any team in the region, a team with multiple three-point shooters that can shoot it from almost anywhere on the court. But, like we’ve seen time and time again, teams can live by the three and die by the three.

At some point, teams have to be able to get the ball in the paint. If not, their three-point luck will eventually run out.

That’s why Buffalo State’s offense has shown all of the signs of possibly making a deep SUNYAC run.

Glover, Epps and Cartwright all can shoot it from the outside, distribute to open teammates and drive to the bucket. Thompson, Smith and Rivers have shown the ability to hit mid-range jumpers and use their size and strength to finish at the rim.

Even with all that, the Bengals have continued to stick to the up-tempo style that SUNYAC opponents have come to know all so well over the years.

Smith’s emergence has given the Bengals a mismatch that many teams in the conference can’t seem to figure out. Smith, at just 6-foot-2, is listed as a guard on the roster, but frequently plays in the post and finishes over much taller defenders, while shooting a team-best 55 percent from the field.

No matter what opposing coaches try to cook up to slow Buffalo State down, the Bengals have all of the pieces to make a deep postseason run.