CJ Massinburg felt the pressure building within himself. Not just because he played two garden-variety games in the last seven days for the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team, but because he made a few weighty demands of himself in that time.
I’ve got to do this, I have to play great, I have to do this. I’ve got to play great.
Finally, the senior guard for the Bulls made a pact with himself.
Relax. There’s no pressure. Have fun.
Once Massinburg changed his frame of mind, it opened up his game. Massinburg scored 31 points in the No. 16 Bulls’ 77-65 win against Eastern Michigan.
Massinburg entered the game as the Bulls’ leading scorer and the MAC’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 16.9 points per game. The guard from Dallas averaged 13 points UB’s first four MAC games, and he scored 10 points in an 88-64 win Jan. 12 against Miami (Ohio) and 13 in an 88-79 win Tuesday at Western Michigan.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on, but you’ve just got to relax and realize that basketball is just a game,” Massinburg said. “It’s something that you should enjoy and not be stressed out about.
“It was just internal pressure, but good thing I have great teammates and I have other guys that’s capable of carrying a team and putting up very big numbers. Our team is very good that I wonder, who do they focus on and who do they scout on? We usually have one to two guys we focus on, but our team’s so good I don’t even know who they focus on.”
Nick Perkins added 21 points and surpassed the 1,500-point mark for the Bulls (17-1, 5-0 MAC), who won their 20th consecutive home game in front of a crowd of nearly 6,200 spectators Friday at Alumni Arena.
The Bulls held off Eastern Michigan, which cut UB’s leads of 11 points in the first half and 13 points less than six minutes into the second half to single-digits.
Then, with 8:43 left in the first half, UB only led 58-56.
Losing those ample leads, UB coach Nate Oats said, came as a result of carelessness with the ball. The Bulls turned the ball over 16 times to Eastern Michigan’s 14, and the Eagles scored 20 points off turnovers, and 19 off fast breaks.
“It took a long time to crack (Eastern Michigan) tonight,” Oats said. “Our turnovers, really, hindered us from breaking that thing open until we did, but once we sat down and got stops and quit turning the ball over, we broke it open with about eight minutes to go.”
Down by two, the Eagles (8-10, 2-3) were poised for an upset. Massinburg hit a layup in the paint with 8:34 left, and Paul Jackson (12 points) cut UB’s lead back to three points at 60-57 on a free throw with 7:41 left.
But Massinburg, who had 17 points at halftime, scored 10 points and had an assist in a 15-0 run that began with 7:17 left in the game, which opened the Bulls’ lead from 60-57 to 75-57 with 4:20 left.
“His play was pivotal for 40 minutes, because he’s such a leader for this basketball team,” Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy said. “He plays really good defense, he can hit shots from the outside, when they’re struggling, he creates penetration for himself and for others and all game, his team did a really good job of recognizing where he was and getting him the ball to be able to make shots or make plays.”
In that 15-0 run, Murphy said, Massinburg continued to make shots, going 3 for 3 from the floor and 2 for 2 from the free-throw line in that stretch of three minutes, one second. Massinburg continued to make plays and play defense against the Eagles, who went 2 for 7 from the floor in the final 7:41 and went without a successful shot from the floor in the final 3:21.
Two weeks after a 74-58 loss to the Bulls -- in which Massinburg scored 12 points -- Eastern Michigan’s coach found the reason why the Bulls, who have won six straight games, have found their footing.
“Now they’re rolling, and they believe,” Murphy said of the Bulls. “The only team that can beat Buffalo will be the team that can outlast them for 40 minutes. They have their ups and downs and their challenges throughout the game, but for whatever reason, for 40 minutes, they figure out, no matter what's going in the game, they believe they can win. They continue to fight.
“If you don’t play 40 minutes, you’re in trouble. Tonight, we played a good 28 minutes but those 12 minutes we didn’t play, we didn’t execute and they capitalized.”