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Improved 3-point shooting fuels another UB win

Friday night's basketball game against Western Michigan was the kind the University at Buffalo would have struggled to win the past two years.

Western Michigan made only seven turnovers and gave up only seven fast-break points.

The Bulls have destroyed teams in transition during coach Nate Oats' tenure. But get the Bulls in a half-court battle, and the UB offense has been inconsistent.

Not this year. UB again demonstrated its improved outside shooting and scored a 92-86 victory over the Broncos.

A near-sellout crowd of 6,670 at Alumni Arena – a record since the arena was reconfigured in 2005 – saw UB improve to 9-1 in the Mid-American Conference and 17-6 overall. UB stands No. 1 in the MAC by 1.5 games over Toledo with eight to go in the regular season.

UB went to the NCAA Tournament two years ago despite ranking 10th in the MAC in three-point shooting at 33 percent. The Bulls were the third best team in the MAC last year despite ranking ninth in threes, again at 33 percent.

This season, UB is second in the MAC behind the arc, hitting 37 percent.

The Bulls kept Western Michigan at arm's length all game by hitting 10 of 21 three-pointers.

"It's great to make 'em, huh?" said Oats. "In the past, if we weren't getting buckets in transition, our half-court offense would stagnate a little bit."

"That's one of the things that makes them a lot more dangerous this year," agreed Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins.

UB got 26 points from junior guard CJ Massinburg and put four others in double figures. Junior forward Nick Perkins had 17, junior forward Jeremy Harris had 16, senior guard Wes Clark had 13 and sophomore guard Davonta Jordan had 10.

Harris hit 4 of 4 three-pointers to boost his season average behind the arc to 41.4 percent overall and a blazing 50 percent the past 10 games.

It's probably not an aberration. The 6-foot-7 Harris shot 45 percent from three in junior college last season. Oats said Harris took in three separate shooting sessions outside of practice on Friday, the last one about midnight.

"I just spend a lot of time on the shooting machine working on it," Harris said. "If you work on it, it should go in."

Massinburg shot 39 percent from three as a freshman but slumped to 33 percent last season, when he was hindered by mononucleosis and a foot stress fracture. He's back to his old self, hitting 41 percent this season.

Massinburg is known as one of UB's hardest workers, too. He put up 250 shots in a practice session during the day Friday.

"To be honest, it's just taking good shots," Massinburg said. "Sometimes last year I may shoot a shot just to get a three up to see if it'll fall. I shot five today, and I wanted to make sure they were all really good threes."

Clark, the transfer from Missouri, is hitting 37.7 percent from three.

The diverse threats make UB a lot harder to guard.

"Their ball-screen game hurt us," Hawkins said. "You go underneath it, they can shoot the three. You go over the top of it, they go downhill."

UB is on the road next week for games at Central Michigan Tuesday and at Northern Illinois Saturday.

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