CJ Massinburg’s right shoulder throbbed. The senior guard was a fraction of a step off his shot, and he and the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team couldn’t muster much in the way of offense in the opening moments of a MAC game Saturday at Alumni Arena.
Massinburg was scoreless in the first half, and the Bulls had a hole in the middle, as forward Nick Perkins was benched in the first half for a violation of team rules.
UB guard Jeremy Harris scored 15 of his team-high 19 points in the first half, but Massinburg found his flow after halftime and scored 18 points to help the No. 23 Bulls to a 90-76 win against Central Michigan on Saturday at Alumni Arena.
“It was definitely killing me,” said Massinburg, who went 0 for 4 from the floor in the first half. “When you know that you’re a guy that will lay your whole body out there for the team, and nothing is going your way. It definitely hurt me, but I just tried to stay positive through it and encourage my teammates.
“Thank God I was able to come back in the second half and be able to help my team.”
The No. 23 Bulls (20-3, 8-2 MAC) erased an 18-point deficit in the final 7:53 of the first half, went on a 16-0 run in the first nine minutes of the second, then held off a late charge by the Chippewas in the final two minutes by going 8 for 10 on free throws down the stretch.
“CJ had to get comfortable playing with his shoulder, and not to make excuses, because I think Central came out really ready to go and they did a great job,” said UB coach Nate Oats, whose program won its 20th game for the eighth time in school history. “But he didn’t have a point at the half, and you could tell he was just passing up shots and trying to pass the ball with his left hand instead of his right hand,”
“Once he realized he could play with it and saw that first three go in, in the second half, that kind of got him going.”
But the Chippewas (16-7, 5-5) flummoxed the Bulls in the first half. UB went 17 for 32 from the floor in the first half, but only 3 for 11 on 3-pointers against the Chippewas, who entered Saturday as the MAC’s top team in 3-point field goal percentage defense (30.5 percent). The Chippewas also had 12 defensive rebounds to UB’s nine in the first half.
But Central Michigan coach Keno Davis said UB’s depth, its physical play, and its ability to force turnovers – the Chippewas committed 23 -- helped UB erase that first-half deficit.
“That’s the reason Buffalo is one of the top 25 teams, because they’ve got guys coming off the bench that are all-conference players or could be all-conference players,” said Davis, whose team was outscored 76-44 in the final 27 minutes, including 52-33 in the second half. “To be able to have that in your rotation, obviously, it gave them a great edge.”
A 17-2 run helped the Chippewas take a 25-12 with 8:58 in the first half, as the Bulls went 1 for 8 from the floor. Then, the Chippewas opened their lead to 18 points, at 32-14 with 7:53 left in the first half.
“The first 13 minutes, I don’t know, we were just out of sync,” Oats said.
But sparked by Davonta Jordan and Caruthers (16 points) on defense – the duo combined for four points, two steals, one assist and a defensive rebound in a span of less than four minutes -- the Bulls cut Central Michigan’s lead to 36-30 with 3:56 left in the first half.
Montell McRae’s 3-pointer with 2:08 left in the first half tied the game at 38-38, but the Chippewas closed the half on a 5-0 run, aided by a free throw by Shawn Roundtree (26 points), after Massinburg was called for a deadball technical foul with 4.6 seconds left.
Perkins (10 points) started the second half and scored four points in the first 1:04 to cut Central Michigan’s lead to 43-42.
“It was a small, minor violation,” Oats said of Perkins. “His attitude’s been great and I love Nick, and he’ll be back to his regular role in the next game, but it was nothing major.
“We went right to him in the second half, right out of the gate, and they had to bring the house. They forced a lot of guys to collapse in the paint and he sprayed the ball out, and we got open looks.”
Central Michigan opened its lead again to 49-42, but Perkins’ free throws at 2:32 of the second half started a 16-0 run for the Bulls, who took their first lead at 50-49 since about the five-minute mark of the first half --when Caruthers’ steal set up Jordan's layup, and the Bulls opened their lead to as many as 13 points with 7:11 left.