By Mike Pesarchick
The buzzer echoed through Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho, as the University at Buffalo Bulls celebrated their upset win over the No. 4 seed Arizona Wildcats on the evening of March 15.
March Madness brackets were shredded in anger, fans throughout Western New York dove with glee through folding tables, and UB guard Dontay Caruthers’ smile beamed.
“It felt like a home game,” he recalled.
Watching from home, more than two thousand miles away, his girlfriend, Canisius’ own Emma Mryglod, a sophomore on the women’s lacrosse team, cheered wildly in full UB attire, the same way she has cheered for him through all of his games.
She was there the moment that UB clinched the Mid-American Conference Championship in Cleveland by defeating the Toledo Rockets, 76-66.
“I was so happy, I brought all my UB gear, I brought the Fathead,” Mryglod laughed.
Things got even better. A few days later, the Bulls were gearing up for the Big Dance, a place in the NCAA Title Tournament. Mryglod’s boyfriend has had an important role in earning that honor.
Caruthers, a junior, has been a defensive force for the Bulls. Though he was hobbled with a stress fracture that kept him out of action for 11 games, he still nearly matched last season’s totals in steals and rebounds.
Considering Caruthers’ 69 rebounds and 68 steals were good enough to earn him MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors last March, it’s no stretch to think that he could have repeated this year. It was thanks to his defensive talents that Deandre Ayton — a potential first-overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft — and the rest of the Wildcats were held in check in Boise.
Both Caruthers and Mryglod hail from Rochester, where they met last summer, and have dated since July. They attended rival high schools, Caruthers attending East High in the city and Mryglod attending School of the Arts, just a short walk away.
Knowing Mryglod is watching is a major boost for Caruthers on the court.
“It gives me more motivation, I play a little higher for her and for my mom who comes all the time,” he said.
Caruthers and the rest of the Bulls put on their best play of the season. Ayton, Arizona’s most dangerous scoring threat, was frustrated the entire night by double teams and heavy pressure at the net.
The two athletes train together as well, but since basketball and lacrosse are very different animals, exercises aren’t always the same. So, sometimes, they said, they trade sports.
“It’s mostly me playing basketball and him playing lacrosse,” laughed Mryglod, “like trying to teach each other our sports which is kind of fun.”
“I was terrible at lacrosse, and when I am terrible at something I work harder,” said Caruthers.
The junior has always had an impressive work ethic, going back to his days at East High School where he once scored 53 points in a single game against Edison. His hard work had paid off against Arizona, but a bigger challenge awaited the Bulls.
The Kentucky Wildcats are a perennial tournament darling. Masters of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Wildcats entered the dance as a No. 5 seed but had been seen as a “paper tiger” thanks to a 78-73 nailbiter against Davidson in the first round.
Their explosive offense featuring the likes of Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had carried them to a 26-10 record in the regular season.
It was a tall task for the scrappy Bulls team, and, in the end, one that they could not overcome. While the Bulls played a tough game, with Caruthers nabbing five rebounds and three steals, they fell to the Wildcats, 95-75.
The loss has shaken neither Mryglod’s nor Caruthers’ confidence in the Bulls, though. While senior transfer Wes Clark is set to graduate, a terrific recruitment class, featuring the talents of Jeenathan Williams, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard from University Prep in Rochester, should inject some needed youth into the team.
“They know what they have to work on, they know that a lot of their returners are coming,” said Mryglod. “The only one they are losing is Wes Clark…they have to find a new role.”
The hard part for Mryglod has become the pressing issue of whom to cheer for when the Bulls and Griffs butt heads. She’s found a solid solution.
Root for both!
The Bulls have a bright future and are certain to be a tough opponent for the Griffs when they meet. Under her Blue and Gold sweatshirt, Mryglod will continue to wear a UB shirt as Caruthers and the rest of the UB squad continue to make waves in the NCAA.