The idea of losing a game at home has motivated the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team, almost as much as it has startled the Bulls at times.
UB faced the possibility of faltering on its home court for the first time in nearly 14 months, but the Bulls quelled their fears in the final five minutes of a 77-64 win Tuesday against Akron.
The No. 21 Bulls trailed the Zips by five points twice in the second half, but UB reached a point when it decided how it was going to turn the game around and shut the door on Akron.
After Jayvon Graves blocked Jimond Ivey’s shot with 5:23 left, CJ Massinburg grabbed the ball and steered the Bulls up the court. Massinburg passed to Graves in the paint, and Graves’ dunk off the fast break gave the Bulls a 63-59 lead.
The Bulls (25-3, 13-2 MAC) outscored the Zips (15-13, 7-8) 14-5 in the final 4:25, and put to rest any ideas of losing their first game at Alumni Arena since a 73-62 loss to St. Bonaventure on Dec. 2, 2017.
Buffalo has won 25 straight games at Alumni Arena, including 17 straight MAC home games.
“It was a really big momentum swing,” Massinburg, who scored 23 points and had 10 rebounds against the Zips, said of Graves’ block and the ensuing offensive play. “After that play, I think they called a time out and we got the guys together and we were like, ‘Yep, it’s time. It’s time. Right here. This is where we go. This is where we make our run. This is where we put this game away and take control of it.' ”
Nick Perkins scored a game-high 25 points and Graves added 14 for the Bulls, who now lead the MAC East Division by two games after Miami (Ohio) defeated Bowling Green (19-9, 11-4) 82-69 Tuesday at the Stroh Center.
With the win, UB can finish no worse than second in the MAC. The Bulls play at 8 p.m. Friday at Miami (Ohio) and at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ohio, then closes the regular season at 6 p.m. March 8 against Bowling Green at Alumni Arena.
Perkins scored at least 20 points for the third time in the last four games, but his defensive game stood out to UB coach Nate Oats.
“You could tell Nick was just locked in,” Oats said. “He was guarding people and didn’t really care about anything but winning the game. We started switching the ball screens there, because it was really causing problems. We were giving up layups and jumpers and everything off of them.
Then Nick switched, and I don’t think he gave up a bucket on any of those switches. So, to be able to have a guy this big be able to switch on guards as quick as theirs – (Akron guard Loren Cristian) Jackson’s as quick as any guard in the league, and to be able to stay in front of him, it just tells the rest of the guys not to worry about helping. Just stay out there and cover the 3 (guard).”
Tyler Cheese led Akron with 20 points and Jackson added 12, but the Zips went 2 for 14 on 3-pointers in the second half after Deng Riak (11 points) gave Akron a 36-35 halftime lead on a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining before the break.
The Zips pushed the lead to 48-43 five minutes into the second half, but Massinburg and Graves sparked a run to tie the game at 48, forcing the Zips to call time out.
Jackson made both free throws to re-open Akron’s lead to 53-48 after the Bulls got called for their second technical foul (six men on the court at 12:59). But, again, the Bulls used a 5-0 run to tie the game, highlighted by Perkins’ dunk off a steal by Massinburg.
Perkins’ three-point play with 7:02 left gave the Bulls a 61-59 lead, and with less than 5:30 left, Massinburg dished to Graves for a dunk that gave the Bulls a 63-59 lead.
“When you play them, you have to play for 40 minutes,” said Akron coach John Groce, who is 5-8 against UB all-time, and 0-4 against the Bulls in his third season with the Zips. “That’s the way they’ve really developed. The two years I’ve went against them, you’ve got to play for 40 minutes. They don’t let their foot off the gas. They’re a very good team and stepped up and made plays in the last eight minutes of the game, and made a few more of them than we did. We had some defensive mistakes where I thought our heart was in it, but we just gambled.
“You can’t gamble against them. When you gamble against them, they make you pay.”
Massinburg needs 51 points to take sole possession of second place all-time among UB’s scorers. The senior guard from Dallas enters Friday’s game at Miami (Ohio) with 1,858 points. Rasaun Young is second all-time with 1,908 points, and Javon McCrea is UB’s all-time leading scorere with 2,004 points.
Massinburg also moved into 20th all-time among the MAC’s leading scorers, ahead of Allen Rayhorn of Northern Illinois and Wally Szczerbiak of Miami (Ohio).
The Bulls hold the nation’s second-longest home winning streak ahead of Tennessee, which hosts Mississippi on Wednesday at Thompson Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. Houston leads the nation with 33 straight home wins.