The No. 19 University at Buffalo men's basketball team stood up to the threat of an upset bid by Ohio University on Tuesday night, defeating the host Bobcats, 82-79, to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Mid-American Conference Tournament next week.
Usually when a team makes 10 more 3-pointers than its opponent in a half, it can build a comfortable lead. Not so for UB. The Bulls let the Bobcats hang around. A desperation shot from beyond halfcourt by Ohio’s Ben Vander Plas went off the mark as regulation time expired.
Although outscored, 33-3, from beyond the arc in the first half, Ohio hung in with the help of 11 UB turnovers and its own ability to score points inside. For the game, the Bobcats had 54 points in the paint to just 18 for UB. Ohio had eight more field goals than UB (33-25).
"Give Ohio a lot of credit, they came ready to play tonight and gave us all we could handle," said Buffalo coach Nate Oats. "I was happy with the way we shot the ball in the first half, but I wasn’t particularly pleased with our defensive effort, which we need to improve on before Friday.
"With that being said, I am extremely proud of this group for everything they have accomplished so far this year. Winning the regular season was just one of our goals for this season, and I am happy for the guys in our locker room."
Buffalo will conclude the regular season at 6 p.m. Friday night (ESPNU) when it goes for a school-record 28th win against Bowling Green at Alumni Arena.
UB won because three of its seniors core came through with clutch performances. Jeremy Harris led the Bulls with 20 points, while Nick Perkins and CJ Massinburg had 17 each.
Massinburg did not have a big shooting night. He made only 2 of 10 field-goal tries but had 11 points at the foul line, including seven in the last 49 seconds to close it out. However, he did miss two free throws with 1 second left that allowed Vander Plas to get off his desperation shot that could have tied the game.
It was the Bulls’ eighth consecutive victory and 27th in 30 games, tying the UB record for most wins in a season set last season. UB already is the first Western New York Division I team to win 25 or more games in successive seasons.
UB built a 10-point lead in the first half but could get the margin no wider. The Bobcats’ last lead was 15-14 after a layup by Doug Taylor with 12:04 left in the first half, but they always were lurking within striking range.
A three by Jayvon Graves gave the Bulls a 39-29 lead with 2:36 to go in the first half, but UB led only 41-35 at the break.
The Bulls threatened to break it open again in the second half. They led, 61-49, after a jump shot by Perkins with 8:48 left, but not so fast. Ohio closed to 65-63 before Taylor missed the second of two free throws that could have brought the margin to one with 5:12 left.
Harris and Massinburg then took over. Harris hit a 2-pointer and Massinburg made one of his two threes in the game for a 70-65 lead. Harris then hit two huge shots, which also were UB’s last field goals.
The 6-foot-7 senior from Greensboro, N.C., hit a 3-pointer against tight defense for a 73-69 lead and drove for a two to make it 75-69 with 1:04 left. The rest was up to Massinburg, who was fouled five times in the final minute.
Doug Taylor, a 6-9 senior, led Ohio (13-16, 6-11) with 20 points, more than 12 over his 7.8 average. However, the Bobcats made only 3 of 17 3-point tries.
The Bobcats were no doubt spoiling for revenge after a 46-point loss to UB at Alumni Arena on Feb. 19. It was the most points UB ever had scored against an Division I opponent and its largest margin of victory over a D-I opponent.
This was the third year in a row that UB won at the Convo Center, which used to mean certain defeat for UB teams. It was the 12th true road victory this season for UB, second most in the nation.
UB outrebounded the Bobcats, 38-35, with Perkins snagging 17. The turnover margin favored Ohio at the half (11-7) but it ended up 16-11. Ohio scored 19 points off UB miscues while the Bulls had just 8.
UB attempted 34 3-pointers, making 15 for 44.1 percent, while Ohio made only 3 of 17 shots from outside the 3-point arc for 17.6 percent.
Whereas UB came into the game leading the MAC with an 85.1 points-per-game scoring average, Ohio ranked only 10th at 70.3.
Friday’s Bowling Green game will be a special night for UB basketball. Besides it being Senior Night, UB Hall of Famer Rasaun Young will be honored at halftime with his jersey being retired.