The end of three days of action saw Buffalo beat the University of San Francisco to claim the Goliath championship at the 2018 Belfast Hall of Fame Classic. Emmet Ryan was at the SSE Arena as a big crowd witnessed the culmination of a thrilling tournament
The 21 ranked Buffalo Bulls came to Belfast looking to add a trophy to their early season unbeaten run. With the most impressive resume of any side making the trip across the Atlantic, including a win at West Virginia, they squared off with a San Francisco side looking at this like a bracket buster game in December. The 7-0 Dons had yet to record a signature win on the season but on Friday they’d shown they were an exhausting opponent with an obnoxious defence that got in the face of everyone early and often.
It only took three scores from the Dons to get Buffalo looking to change gears. A whip pass from Davonta Jordan to CJ Massimburg covered three quarters of the court and was the start of a clear change in pace from the Bulls. The early minutes had seen San Francisco try to keep the pace below a level Buffalo liked. That first effort didn’t lead to a score but it was enough to get San Francisco thinking. The scoreboard wasn’t moving much at all through the first five minutes but the change still wasn’t to USF’s liking.
The first timeout was what the game needed to bring some rhythm to the reckless speed. The outside shooting was still poor rather than well defended but Dontay Carruthers made the game’s first three after 7 minutes to give the Bulls their first lead of the night as went on a 9-0 run to briefly create some breathing room.
The Dons however weren’t intimidated by the pedigree or style of Buffalo. They had come back out with a line-up happier to run and try and take on Buffalo head on. Nate Renfro put an exclamation point on that as he curled around the key and then made nice cut in from the left of the lane for a dunk that roused the crowd.
— Basketball Ireland (@BballIrl) December 1, 2018
Nick Perkins however was starting to look terribly comfortable out there. Against Matt McCarthy he was a mismatch on both ends and was moving comfortably against the frustrated looking San Francisco big. The bulkier Jimbo Lull was switched in, costing the Dons some speed in transition but giving them a better chance at containing Perkins.
Just as they had against Milwaukee a day earlier, Buffalo looked to have that extra dash of energy as the half entered the final 5 minutes. The Panthers had been able to hang until then before falling in a big hole and the Dons were wary of the threat. Having briefly dropped 8 behind, their biggest deficit of the afternoon so far, USF quickly made it a one possession game.
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The Bulls however were just warming up and an audible cry of fuck was heard from USF’s Frankie Ferrari after he somehow blew a layup following a dazzling run to get through the paint like it was empty. He knew it was the wrong time of the game to blow easy shots.
The Bulls briefly leaner towards the half, bringing in Montell McRae, but then brought Perkins to pair up with him for a closing line-up with ample length. Perkins pushed the lead back out with a minute to go before a Jordan Ratinho three on the buzzer meant the Dons only trailed 41-35 at the break.
— Basketball Ireland (@BballIrl) December 1, 2018
The Bulls were ready to run once action resumed while Perkins was hunting contact. As with the first, the action was frenetic but the finishing so-so for the first few minutes before both sides found their feet once more. While Buffalo had come out with the hotter pace, the Dons were getting more done.
Buffalo settled somewhat after the first tiemout of the half, with a noted drop in pace as they tried to put some order on things. The middle of the half felt like the energy had been sucked out of both sides as caution prevailed. The Dons were on the heels of the Bulls but neither was really able to figure out how create any separation.
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Perkins broke the slump as he slipped behind McCarthy for an easy dunk and then the Australian returned the favoured by putting a floater over him. The Dons briefly drew level out of the next time out and that added a much needed dose of urgency to both offences. Massimburg, who’d been silent for too long, made a three to restore the Buffalo advantage. Perkins was starting to feel it too and Buffalo seemed to have remembered that they were the big dog here meant to bully USF.
Still, the Bulls seemed to be making needless tough work of this. Profiligate on the inside, they were leaving USF with too many opportunities to stay in touch. The outside game was at least keeping some room between the sides but with 5 minutes to play it looked like Buffalo needed another spark to close this out.
Finally, Perkins with the inside move to bring himself past 20 on the day. He nodded as Jordan advanced the ball. This was a business trip and it was time to close the deal. The Bulls increased the interior bombardment, looking for and repeatedly getting contact as they pushed this one out from the line.
The Dons just weren’t done and a Ferrari three was sandwiched by lay-ups from Ratinho and Jamaree Bouyea to close the gap to 2 inside of the final minute. It just wasn’t enough.
Jeremy Harris kept his nerve to make a lay-up and an airball by Ferrari led to a turnover with the clock against USF. Buffalo closed it out to move to 7-0 and go home with a hard-earned trophy.
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