The University at Buffalo men’s basketball team moved closer to wrapping up the MAC East title Tuesday night, cruising past Kent State at Alumni Arena, 84-72.
UB has five games left in the regular season and can clinch its first division title since 2015 with a win Friday against Bowling Green. A victory would also guarantee UB a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Jeremy Harris scored a career-high 24 points and Wes Clark scored 19 in Tuesday’s win as UB improved to 19-7 overall, 11-2 in the MAC and 11-1 at home. Nick Perkins recorded a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds and CJ Massinburg threatened a triple-double with nine rebounds, eight points and a career-high seven assists.
UB coach Nate Oats said his team still has work to do in closing out games, especially after blowing second-half leads of 18 and 13 points in the last two weeks. The Bulls’ 21-point lead in the second half Tuesday was trimmed down to 10, but they never allowed the Golden Flashes to get within single digits.
Oats said the key to putting teams away is staying tough on defense. Massinburg told Oats at Monday’s practice that he was going to play like the team’s best defender again, and Oats saw that Tuesday as Massinburg held Kent State’s leading scorer, Jaylin Walker, to 4 of 17 from the field.
“Shoot, C.J., he’s leading us in scoring … and he only had eight points, but he won the blue-collar hat; I’d give him MVP of the game for the job he did on Walker,” Oats said, adding that he coached Walker in high school.
“I got a little bit of a jump start on the scouting report on him. He’s gonna fire, whether he’s open or not, so let’s just make sure that he’s never open,” Oats said. “He’s gonna get his shots up – he got 17 up! – and I thought CJ did a great job. Four of 17 is probably not the ideal shooting percentage on their end.”
Title watch: UB could’ve clinched the East with a win Tuesday plus loses from Bowling Green and Miami. Bowling Green rallied in the second half to beat Western Michigan, 83-81, while Miami lost to Eastern Michigan, 58-57. Top seed in the MAC – and the NIT autobid – still looks like a two-way race between UB and Toledo (11-2). UB has the tiebreaker thanks to its head-to-head win.
Game flow: UB used a 16-1 run late in the first half to get separation and held a big lead at the break, 45-27. Perkins scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half while Harris logged 17 in the second half as the Bulls shot 52.4 percent in the game, won the rebounding battle 44-32 and dished out 19 assists on 33 field goals. Jayvon Graves blocked three shots. Kevin Zabo’s 17 points led Kent State, which fell to 12-14, 6-7 MAC and 2-9 on the road. (Box score here.)
T’d up: UB’s Ikenna Smart was hit with a technical foul after using choice words toward Kent State’s Adonis De La Rosa late in the first half. De La Rosa made 1 of 2 shots.
T’d up II: UB coach Oats got hit with a technical foul with 5:44 left for throwing his clipboard after the Bulls botched an inbounds play. Walker hit 1 of 2 shots to make it 70-59.
Bertram out: Reserve center Brock Bertram, a redshirt freshman, missed the game due to a family emergency.
Starters: Nate Oats started CJ Massinburg, Davonta Jordan, Wes Clark, Jeremy Harris and Ikenna Smart for the 16th straight game. Rob Senderoff countered with Jalen Avery, Adonis De La Rosa, Danny Pippen, Jaylin Walker and Mitch Peterson. Peterson replaced Zabo (12.1 ppg), who had started the last 13 games.
Next: UB hosts Bowling Green at 7 p.m. Friday.