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UB clinches MAC's top seed for first time ever

Nate Oats and the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team cut down the nets at Alumni Arena Tuesday night after beating Akron, 80-68, to clinch their first-ever No. 1 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

By winning the MAC’s regular-season title, UB (22-8, 14-3 MAC) is also guaranteed an appearance in the National Invitational Tournament if it doesn't qualify for the NCAA Tournament. That’s what they really want.

"We have bigger goals ahead of us, but we're also going to enjoy this," said junior guard CJ Massinburg, who scored 26 points. "This was the first step in our goals this year and we got it done. So hopefully we get the next one."

UB will open in MAC Tournament play at noon on Thursday, March 8 with a quarterfinal against the 8-9 winner at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. UB has one more regular season game to play this Friday at Bowling Green.

“It’s huge to get the 1-seed,” third-year coach Nate Oats said. “Our goal is to win the regular season and win the tournament. So we got one of the two. And then we’d like to win some games in the NCAA Tournament. I think we’ve got the team that can do it. We’re going to have to put three games together. We can’t have a first half like we had tonight.”

Photo GalleryBuffalo Bulls 80, Akron Zips 68

UB turned up the defense after a poor first half Tuesday en route to its school-record 14th conference win of the season. The Bulls trailed 38-32 at halftime and couldn’t put away a 12-16 Zips team until the final minute, but they made an incredible 17 of 23 field goals in the second half (73.9 percent) to earn the win.

“I always tell them, when your effort on defense is really high, your offense tends to follow,” Oats said. “When you’re playing hard, offense flows,” Oats said. “When you’re in slow motion on defense, the whole game turns into slow motion. And we’re just not very good that way. I thought our effort in the first half stunk.”

Bucky Gleason: UB's next step is locking up Nate Oats

Tuesday was also Senior Night. UB honored Wes Clark, walk-on Gabe Agorioge and junior Ikenna Smart (who is a senior academically) after the game, as well as team manager Wesley Scheier and student Jared Gavin, who served as mascot Victor E. Bull. Agorioge took two late free throws and made both.

Oats indicated Smart may not be with the team next season.

“Look, he’s married, he’s graduating, he had back surgery. It’s not guaranteed he’s not coming (back), but in all likelihood he’s probably done playing here," Oats said. "It’s more of a decision with him. I’m a married man – it’s not that healthy for a marriage to be apart from your wife for the first two years of marriage. She lives in North Carolina. Most likely he will try to be like a grad transfer to a school down in North Carolina next year. So we wanted to make sure he got honored.”

UB also coordinated for Clark’s mother to be a surprise guest. She had told Wes she had to work and couldn’t make the game.

“Five seconds before I went out, that’s when I found out,” Clark said. “Almost made me cry on national TV.”

Home cooking: Recording 14 home wins also ties the UB record, matching the mark set by the 1964-65 team.

Adios: Akron coach John Groce was ejected with 24.7 seconds left in the game, presumably for actions toward officials.

On fire: UB has now shot 50 percent or better in nine consecutive games, averaging 88.3 points during those eight games. That’s the longest streak since UB returned to Division I in 1991-92.

Play of the day: A UB student named Kyle Hughes hit a half-court shot during a timeout to win 12 pizzas from Santora’s. (Surprised the prize wasn’t larger? “You and me both man” Hughes replied on Twitter.)

Game line: Vegas set the line at UB -15, over/under 160. Akron covered, total was under.

In the house: Super Bowl champion Steven Means, an Eagles defensive end and former UB Bull, was honored before the game.

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