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UB's CJ Massinburg hits milestone as Bulls prepare for first-place showdown at Bowling Green

C.J. Massinburg took a few minutes after the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team’s 83-59 win against Ball State to reflect upon his three-plus years with the Bulls.

He went from a being a lightly recruited high-school player who had to beg Bulls coach Nate Oats for an opportunity to earn playing time as a freshman, to becoming one of the MAC’s top players.

The senior guard became one of the Bulls’ top five all-time scorers Tuesday. His efforts helped UB move into first place in the MAC.

The Bulls (19-2, 6-1) are a half-game ahead of Bowling Green in the MAC East Division and face the Falcons at 8 p.m. Friday at the Stroh Center in northwest Ohio.

Massinburg scored 16 points against Ball State, on a night when the Bulls struggled to find their shooting touch, and moved into fourth among UB’s all-time leading scorers, with 1,715 points.

Massinburg entered the game with 1,699 points and he needed 27 seconds to eclipse the 1,700-point mark. Massinburg hit 1,701 career points on the Bulls’ first basket, 27 seconds into the game.

Massinburg then became UB’s fourth all-time leading scorer when he scored his 12th point on a 3-pointer less than a minute into the second half.

“It’s a blessing,” Massinburg said. “Me and Coach (Nate Oats) were talking about the recruiting process earlier today, at the pregame meal, and it’s just crazy how everything shaped out. Coach took a chance on me without even seeing me play, I came in on my visit and had to work out.

“Today, it’s crazy how we can sit here and say … everything in these four years that has happened. It’s a blessing.”

The Dallas native moved past Mike Martinho in UB’s all-time scoring leaders; Martinho scored 1,708 points, from 1994-1998.

Javon McCrea is UB’s all-time leading scorer with 2,004 points, ahead of Rasaun Young (1,908) and Jim Horne (1,833).

Massinburg added four assists against Ball State and was one of four players in double figures in scoring for UB (19-2, 7-1 MAC) on Tuesday, along with Dontay Caruthers, who scored a season-high 21 points, Davonta Jordan (13 points) and Jayvon Graves (11 points).

In fact, Caruthers deferred to Massinburg when discussing his own play.

"I want to credit C.J., a lot, because he's the one who gave me a lot of my points, off assists and stuff like that," said Caruthers, whose 21 points were a season-high for him. "My team and my coaches were telling me to keep shooting, to stay aggressive.”

UB had to keep shooting, especially after a dismal first-half performance in which the Bulls shot 13-for-37 (35.1 percent) in the first half against the Cardinals (11-10, 2-6) – well below the Bulls' clip of 46.3 percent prior to Tuesday – and 2 for 19 on 3-point attempts.

Defense became as pivotal as managing shot attempts for UB. Nick Perkins, who entered averaging 14.6 points per game, was held to a season-low three points against Ball State, but had five rebounds.  Jeremy Harris went 2 for 10 for the floor and finished with five points, but grabbed 11 rebounds, including eight defensive rebounds.

UB opened a 35-22 lead at halftime to 18 less than five minutes into the second half, and finished 32 for 74 from the floor, including 7 for 31 on 3-pointers.

“If you have to rely on your offense, that’s a lot of pressure,” Oats said. “If you have to make shots to win every game, that’s not the kind of pressure I want to put on these guys. Our defense, that’s the kind of pressure we want to put on. That’s mental focus, locked in, playing hard, effort you can control that every night.

“Some nights, you just can’t shoot the ball that well. For whatever reason, you don’t have any flow. So, you’re not going to be able to control that every night.”

Now, the Bulls prepare to face Bowling Green (14-6, 6-1) in a pivotal MAC East game; Bowling Green was idle Tuesday.

“It’s huge,” Oats said. “It’s a game for first place. If we win, we’re in first place alone. If they win, they’re in first place alone. The Bowling Green game is as big a game as we’ve had in the conference yet, this year. Our guys easily could have looked ahead to it. I think that shows some maturity. I think we’re growing.”

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