TOLEDO, Ohio – Nick Perkins isn’t necessarily known as a force in creating offense from behind the 3-point line.
Prior to Friday, he hit only 26 of 76 3-point attempts in 24 games this season for the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team.
But with teammate CJ Massinburg on the bench with four fouls midway through the second half Friday at Toledo, the senior forward quickly transformed into a sharpshooter.
Perkins scored a game-high 26 points and hit three of his four 3-point shots in a stretch of 3 minutes, 29 seconds to help the No. 25 Bulls to an 88-82 win against the Rockets at Savage Arena.
“CJ is our leading scorer and an unbelievable player, but on this team, it’s always, ‘next man up,’ ” Perkins said. “CJ does an unbelievable job leading and me and Jeremy (Harris) wait for moments like this.
“CJ usually takes a lot of our shots down the stretch, but I was ready to hit some shots.”
Perkins tied a career-high in points and had 10 rebounds on the same night he played his 128th game at UB. Perkins tied Mitchell Watt (2008-12) and Javon McCrea (2010-14) for the program record for games played.
Perkins was also one of five players to score in double figures for the Bulls, along with Massinburg (14 points), Montell McRae (12 points), Harris (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Dontay Caruthers (10 points).
Davonta Jordan’s 3-pointer with 10:11 left in the game broke a 56-56 tie and started a 5-point swing in favor of the Bulls (22-3, 10-2 MAC), and Perkins’ precision helped the Bulls open a 64-62 lead to 70-62 with 5:38 left, which forced Toledo (20-5, 8-4) to call a timeout seven seconds later.
“When Nick just started hitting threes, they called a timeout and I thought they were going to adjust their ball-screen coverage,” UB coach Nate Oats said. “I didn’t know how. He continued to get them. Our guards were pretty unselfish, driving in and forcing (Toledo center Luke) Knapke to stay with the guards. Nick was popping back and he was wide open, and they kept feeding him when he got hot.”
Perkins’ long-range efficiency even surprised Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk.
“You’ve got to give Perkins credit,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s not considered a 3-point shooter, and tonight he made some shots.”
But after the Bulls took their first lead of the game, they set a goal for the final stretch against the first-place team in the MAC West Division.
“The first timeout we had, once we got the lead, we basically said, ‘if we play defense, we’re not losing the game,’ ” Oats said. “Our offense comes and goes a little bit. Once get the lead and you go out and get stops and rebounds, you’re winning the game. That was our big talking point from there.”
The Bulls earned a Quadrant 1 win, which will help the Bulls to strengthen their resume to earn an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament if it does not win the MAC Tournament championship.
UB entered Friday at 23 in the NCAA's NET rankings, and Toledo entered at No. 57. A win or loss on the road against one of the top 75 teams in the NET rankings qualifies as a Quadrant 1 game; UB has two Quadrant 1 wins (Syracuse and Toledo) and a Quadrant 1 loss (Marquette).
Perkins also helped the Bulls rally from a 13-point deficit in the first half. The Rockets held the Bulls to two successful shots from the floor in the first seven minutes, en route to a 17-4 lead.
Toledo shot 42.4 percent (14 for 33) in the first half, took a 39-36 lead at halftime, and appeared poised to hand the Bulls their second loss in northwest Ohio, two weeks after their 92-88 loss at Bowling Green.
The Rockets opened a three-point halftime lead to 44-36 in the first 1:04 of the second half on a layup by Knapke and a 3-pointer by Jaelan Sanford (24 points). Caruthers tied the game at 52-52 on a pair of free throws at 7:09 of the second half, the first of three times the Bulls tied the Rockets in a span of less than two minutes before Jordan’s 3-pointer sparked an 8-2 run for the Bulls, who opened their lead to 64-58 with 8:04 left.
“Nick came out ready to go in the second half, and those 3s were huge,” Oats said. “We needed every last one of those.”
UB’s composure also impressed Oats, whose team had five players with at least two fouls at the end of the first half. Massinburg was one of three Bulls with four fouls in the second half, but only Caruthers fouled out, with 30 seconds left and the Bulls ahead 84-75.
“When you get (Jordan) and Caruthers both (in foul trouble), those are our two best defensive guards, and your leading scorer Massinburg’s got three, you’re in some trouble,” Oats said. “I thought our guys played pretty well in the second half.”