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Off-guard spot in good hands, as C.J. Massinburg leads UB past Northern Illinois

It’s amazing that you never hear University at Buffalo basketball fans talk about missing Shannon Evans.

The reason is C.J. Massinburg. UB has not missed a beat with the 6-foot-3 sophomore from Dallas at the off-guard position since Evans left two years ago.

Massinburg was the offensive catalyst again for the Bulls Wednesday night. He scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to lead a defensive-minded UB squad to a 65-45 victory over Northern Illinois.

“Massinburg can create his shot, and catch and shoot,” said Northern Illinois coach Mark Montgomery. “He was the one who found his mark and kind of broke the game open. There’s a reason he was on that all-freshman team last year. He’s a good weapon to have.”

The win was UB’s third straight and its 12th straight over Northern Illinois. The Bulls (12-12 and 6-5) moved into a five-way tie for second place in the MAC.

The 6-1 Evans averaged 15.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in helping UB win the Mid-American Conference two years ago. He was a second-team All-MAC pick as a sophomore, and then followed former coach Bobby Hurley to Arizona State. (Evans is playing well for the Sun Devils.)

Enter Massinburg, who got UB’s last available scholarship in May 2015. UB coach Nate Oats found Massinburg through a coaching friend, former Louisiana Tech aide Dusty May. Louisiana Tech liked Massinburg but didn’t have a spot for him.

Massinburg exceeded all expectations last year, averaging 11.3 points in helping UB to a second straight MAC title.

This season, his production is very similar to that of Evans as a sophomore, which is saying a lot. Evans was dynamic for the Bulls. Massinburg is averaging 14.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists.

“Nothing against Shannon, he had a great two years here for us,” Oats said. “But C.J. is bigger, and he plays better defense, in my opinion. He’s a little more efficient probably. He can get in the lane and score.”

“We were fortunate, the fact he was available when we got this job,” Oats said. “Shoot, he’s been huge for our program these last two years.”

Massinburg missed the first eight games of this season due to mononucleosis, and that’s a reason his shooting percentage is down a bit. He’s hitting 34.3 percent on three-pointers, compared with 38.9 percent last year.

“The mono really set me back,” Massinburg said. “Now I feel like I’m getting back to that with my confidence. I’m just trying to put in the work to do the best I can.”

Oats loves Massinburg’s work ethic. At midseason last year, he gave himself tendinitis in the right elbow from shooting so much after practice.

“He always responds well when you get on him,” Oats said. “He’s a high-character kid who can take some criticism without taking it personally and just go out and get it fixed and get the job done.”

“He’s a loyal kid who really wants what’s best for the program,” Oats said. “His leadership in the locker room, even though he’s only a sophomore, is huge.”

Like Evans, Massinburg is more effective at off-guard than the point. UB is using 6-6 senior Blake Hamilton as the primary ball-handler.

“Blake draws a lot of attention out there,” Massinburg said. “If teams want to load up to Blake, I’m deep corner ready to knock down the three. I feel like I space the floor and help other guys on my team get easy buckets.”

Massinburg has hit 11 of 22 three-point shots over the past three games, a good sign for the Bulls.

A crowd of 3,212 at Alumni Arena saw UB outscore Northern Illinois, 40-20, in the second half. The Bulls held the Huskies (14-10) to 32 percent shooting overall and 1-of-13 three-point shooting. Huskies 6-11 center Marin Maric, averaging 13.6, took only five shots and scored seven points.

UB got 11 points and 12 rebounds from sophomore forward Nick Perkins.

The Bulls visit Bowling Green at noon Saturday.

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