CLEVELAND – The University at Buffalo showed off its deep roster of athletic defenders Friday night and rolled into the Mid-American Conference championship game.
UB shut down Kent State, 78-61, in a relatively stress-free MAC semifinal at Quicken Loans Arena. The Bulls were in control from start to finish thanks to holding the Golden Flashes to just 34.4 percent shooting. It was Kent's worst shooting night and its lowest point total of the season.
The win put the Bulls in the MAC championship game for the third time in four years. Top-seeded UB (25-8) will play the winner of the other semifinal between Toledo and Eastern Michigan at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
"Every game we play with Kent State ends up being a brawl," said UB coach Nate Oats. "We did a really good job on defense. . . . I didn't think they had too many uncontested shots most of the game."
UB went to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and 2016. This year's team is ranked higher on both offense and defense than those MAC champions.
UB is No. 2 in the MAC in defensive efficiency and No. 3 in field-goal percentage allowed.
Despite its middling record, Kent State (17-17) looked like a scary matchup for the Bulls because the Golden Flashes' 7-foot center, Adonis De La Rosa, had dominated inside with 20-points in a Jan. 30 win over UB.
This time, UB big men Nick Perkins and Ikenna Smart aggressively fronted De La Rosa to prevent passes into the low post. De La Rosa had just two shots and two points in the first half, as UB took a 39-29 intermission lead.
"If you went back and watched the second half at their place, De La Rosa really hurt us a lot," Oats said. "I thought our bigs were a little bit lazy, let the ball get in there the entire second half. If we doubled, he passed out of it well. If he didn't, he scored it. So we didn't want him to catch the ball. It was don't give up post catches. We had to play a little harder."
"Our game plan going in was to fight him real hard, front him in the post and make him make tough shots," said UB forward Jeremy Harris.
"We really wanted to get the ball inside, and we didn't do a very good job of it," said Kent State coach Rob Senderoff. "They did a good job of taking things away. Credit to UB."
The other element of the lockdown was UB's guards made it difficult for Kent's guards to comfortably run their offense.
All five of the UB guards who see extensive minutes – Wes Clark, CJ Massinburg, Davonta Jordan, Dontay Caruthers and Jayvon Graves – are defensive assets. On most teams that play that many guards, somebody is a defensive liability. Not for UB.
"I thought our guards did a good job pressuring the ball, and we had great backside help on it," Oats said of defending De La Rosa. "They didn't really have any options other than skipping it across the floor."
"I've never had a team with this much depth," Oats said. "You've got an all-defensive kid in Jordan this year. Defensive player of the year in Caruthers last year. Wes Clark's more than capable of handling the whole zone on defense. Jayvon is super athletic."
Harris, the sensational 6-7 junior, led UB with 22 points and made 5 of 6 three-point shots. He also had seven rebounds.
"He's an X-factor," Senderoff said. "He really is very, very good and he played great tonight. He made a couple huge, huge baskets when we were going on a run."
UB got 14 points from Massinburg, 12 from forward Nick Perkins and 11 from Caruthers.
UB's bench outscored Kent State's bench, 31-3.
Caruthers, the junior from Rochester, and Graves, a 6-3 freshman from Akron, Ohio, were especially good with effort plays on defense. Caruthers also had five rebounds and three steals in 20 minutes. Graves had eight points and three blocks in 18 minutes.
"What Jayvon has done is he realizes if you don't guard, you don't play, so he's guarding," Oats said. "He's more than physically capable of doing it. He's an unbelievable athlete with a great body."
"He can really guard 1 through 4 a lot of times," Oats said, referring to point guard through power forward.
Story topics: UB men's basketball