CJ Massinburg was wearing athletic tape on his right elbow Tuesday night because he works so hard on his shot after practice he has overuse soreness.
The practice outweighed the pain for Massinburg, who scored 21 points to lead the University at Buffalo to an 87-70 rout of Kent State.
The win put the Bulls in strong position to earn a top-four seed and a bye into the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
UB improved to 16-12 overall and 9-6 in the MAC, one game behind first-place Akron (10-5) with three regular-season games to go. UB is tied for second with Ohio, Kent State and Ball State. But UB holds the tie-breaker edges over both Kent State and Ball State.
Massinburg, the 6-foot-3 guard from Dallas, was sensational during a 7½-minute stretch of the second half when UB went on a 27-9 run to blow the game open. He had 10 points in the flurry, when UB scored on 11 of 14 possessions. Massinburg hit 4 of 5 three pointers.
“We just turned it up with our intensity, our effort,” Massinburg said. “I feel like that won the game for us. Our stops and effort turned into easy buckets, easy transition threes.”
Massinburg has been one of UB’s best defensive players, and he has been a revelation on offense. He’s averaging 11.7 ppg, but he’s scoring 18 ppg over the last eight games.
“You notice he’s got the tape on his elbow; he shoots too much,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “So after the season he’s going to have to take a few weeks off. But if you work on your shot that hard, you’re going to go 4 of 5 from three some games.”
It was a big game all around for UB’s freshmen, who scored 47 points.
Nick Perkins, the 6-8 freshman from Detroit, had 13 points, 11 during the big run in the second half. He took Kent State star Jimmy Hall to the low blocks and made a smooth pivot-and-bank shot. He showed dazzling footwork on a fast-break layup, which he converted for a three-point play. Then he hit a three pointer from the top of the key to give UB a 68-52 lead, to the delight of 3,284 at Alumni Arena.
Ikenna Smart, the 6-10 redshirt freshman from North Carolina, had 11 points, seven rebounds and a block in 23 minutes. That was huge because the game was a contrast between UB’s speed and athleticism and Kent State’s size and power inside.
Kent State had 13 offensive rebounds and 13 second chance points in the first half. Kent State had upset Akron Friday night the same way, by scoring every basket within 4 feet of the rim. But both Smart and Perkins stayed out of foul trouble, and their size helped keep the Golden Flashes from dominating inside the final 20 minutes.
“They just tried to beat us up,” Oats said. “They just kept pounding it, pounding it, pounding it in there. We expected them to do that. They’re not a great shooting team. They only shot 12 threes.”
“I thought in the second half our bigs did a lot better job keeping it out of the post,” Oats said. “Nick and Ikenna played as good as our bigs have played all year in the second half.”
UB got 15 points from junior forward Blake Hamilton. Sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden had 11 points and eight assists.
UB, which ranks eighth in the MAC with an average of 6.5 threes a game, made 10 of 23 shots behind the arc. UB’s bench outscored Kent’s bench, 49-10.
“They did a great job of playing hard, following their game plan and competing at a really high level,” said Kent State coach Rob Senderhoff. “They deserved to win. We just couldn’t get a stop is what it came down to. Transition for them. Uncontested shots. We just didn’t compete. We sort of fell apart.”
UB visits Ohio Saturday. It closes the regular season next week with Miami at home and Bowling Green on the road. A 2-1 finish likely will put UB in the top four.
“The future’s looking bright,” Oats said of his freshmen. “We’re trying to win right now, though.”