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UB men's basketball shakes off slow start, routs Kent State

Nick Perkins had to make a move to help the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team take control.

With the No. 25 Bulls down by two points with less than 80 seconds left in the first half, Perkins pulled back and hit UB’s first 3-point shot of the game.

The senior forward ultimately made a few moves in a matter of a few moments.

Perkins scored eight of his career-high 27 points in a span of 75 seconds to help the Bulls to a 80-57 win against Kent State on Friday at Alumni Arena.

“When I hit that first one, I definitely thought we were going to get on a roll, and it worked going into the half,” Perkins said. “It was actually amazing. Jayvon’s (Graves')  tip, that was probably one of the best ones of the year.

“Just seeing it all happen, it all happened so quick, actually, so it was fun.

UB (24-3, 12-2 MAC) opened the game 0 for 9 from behind the perimeter, but Perkins created a presence in the paint, then shifted between the inside and the outside in a pivotal stretch late in the first half.

Perkins’ 3-pointer gave the Bulls a 28-27 lead on a possession off a turnover by Kent State, then he grabbed a rebound off Davonta Jordan’s 3-point attempt with 39 seconds left and made a layup. After Jayvon Graves’ dunk with 16 seconds left, Perkins closed out the run with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, off Kent State’s 11th turnover, which gave the Bulls a 35-27 lead at halftime.

“When you make mistakes, they capitalize,” said Kent State coach Rob Senderoff, whose team finished 23 for 57 from the floor, but shot only 12 for 32 in the second half and committed 24 turnovers. “When they smell blood, they’re like sharks in the water, and that’s, to me, their greatest attribute as a team.

“How does somebody get 10 points in 75 seconds? There should only be two possessions, maybe three.  But there’s (four) possessions.”

In front of 6,688 spectators at Alumni Arena – the largest crowd since the building was reconfigured in 2004 – the Bulls took sole possession of first place in the MAC East Division, after Ohio defeated Bowling Green 92-87 in overtime in Athens, Ohio. Bowling Green is 11-3 in the MAC, and faces UB in the regular-season finale for both teams on March 8 at Alumni Arena.

The Bulls are atop the 12-team MAC and earned a first-round bye in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals. The teams with the top four records earn first-round byes in the MAC Tournament, which begins March 11 with first-round games on campus sites and continues March 14 with the conference quarterfinals in Cleveland.

The 68-team NCAA Tournament field will be announced March 17, the day after the MAC championship game, and UB coach Nate Oats made known his team’s intentions for its final four regular-season games and its postseason pursuits.

“We need to send a statement," said Oats, whose team lost to Kentucky in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. "We’re trying to make it past the point what we did last year, we won a game last year and we’re going to do better than we did last year, and that means getting into the second weekend of the tournament. We’re a 7-seed right now and everybody’s got a 2 seed as Kentucky.”

ESPN, CBS Sports and USA Today project the Bulls as a 7 seed in NCAA Tournament predictions that were updated Friday.

“We’d better hurry it up and start playing a lot better, and get ourselves out of that 7 seed,” Oats continued. “Or be playing great enough that if they (the NCAA Tournament committee) decides to give us a 7 seed, we’ve got to be playing well enough to play a team like that in the second round. We weren’t playing like that up until this week. We’re showing we can.”

CJ Massinburg scored 18 points and became UB’s No. 3 all-time UB's scoring leader with 1,835 points. Massinburg passed Jim Horne, who scored 1,833 career points at UB from 1951 to 1955.

Massinburg also took on the task of defending Kent State guard Jaylin Walker, who entered Friday as the leading scorer in the MAC, averaging 21.8 points per game.

Walker scored 12 Friday against the Bulls. Antonio Williams led the Golden Flashes (19-8, 8-6) with 17, until he fouled out with 5:43 left.

“They pretty much ran the same plays they did the last time we faced them, with the exception of two more plays that they put in,” said Massinburg, whose team opened its lead to as many as 24 points in the second half. “I watched a lot of film on (Walker) and I’ve been playing him for four years and I watched every bucket he scored on me, from the last game and I asked, ‘what can I do better?’

“I knew what I should have (done) and I just tried to do that, and just play hard and try to pressure him, all game.”

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