Published March 15, 2016
And they’re off.
The UB men’s basketball team received a spirited send-off from Bulls fans at Alumni Arena this morning as they headed off to Providence, Rhode Island, where they’ll play Miami in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
This is UB’s second straight year in the Big Dance, but it’s with an almost entirely new cast of players and coaches. And it’s a package deal, since the women’s team also advanced to their tournament and will play Friday in Columbus, Ohio. The women’s send-off is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, also in Alumni Arena.
Players were thrilled to see so many fans in the arena lobby to wish them well as they embark upon their quest to achieve the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. “This is something new. We don’t get this every day,” junior wing Willie Conner said of the crowd. “It means they care a lot about us.”
“It’s a special week for us,” said Bulls first-year head coach Nate Oats, who was an assistant last season when UB played in the tournament. “There’s nothing like the NCAA Tournament. It's the best sporting event on earth. To be part of it last year was eye-opening and then to be able to go back again, it’s great for the kids,” he said, adding the community support has been wonderful. “We’re on spring break and we still got a pretty good crowd here.”
A sizable contingent of UB faithful traveled to the Bulls’ first-round game last year in Columbus, and the same can be expected this time around in Providence. “It shows the support system that we have at the school. We’re pretty much a family here. We really get a lot of love,” said guard CJ Massinburg. “It’s gonna be a good experience. Not too many people in life get to go through this. I’m pretty blessed to be able to do it in my freshman year.”
Even the UB cheerleading squad is anxious for a return trip to March Madness. The squad is making the trek with the men’s team, as is the UB band. “I was at the MAC Tournament last year when the men won for the first time and that was exciting. This is on a whole different level because both the men’s and women’s team are going,” said Hayley Pandolfi, a senior cheerleader.
“The atmosphere is great at the tournament. Everyone’s so excited,” added senior cheerleader Shanel Ginyard. “It really puts UB on the map.”