The University at Buffalo put a big, fat bow Friday night on the greatest college basketball regular season Western New York has seen in 49 years.
The 19th-ranked Bulls rolled past the No. 3 team in the Mid-American Conference, Bowling Green, 84-73, in their regular-season finale.
Not since the 1970 St. Bonaventure team finished No. 3 in the nation and made the Final Four has Western New York seen such a dominant team.
The Bulls improved to 28-3, breaking last year’s record for most wins in school history. And it’s the most wins in a season in Big 4 history.
A roaring, Senior Night crowd of 6,704 – a record for Alumni Arena in its current configuration – saw the Bulls come out flying. It was 8-0 after two minutes, UB never trailed and it pulled away the last 10 minutes.
The win was UB’s 26th straight at home, tying No. 5 Tennessee for the longest in the nation.
“It’s great to win 28 and it’s still the regular season,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “It’s pretty incredible what these guys have done. These seniors have taken this program to unbelievable heights. . . . It was an emotional night.”
“It was very loud, the loudest I’ve ever heard this building,” said Falcons coach Michael Huger.
Next stop for the Bulls: The Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland, where they will be the No. 1 seed. The Bulls (16-2 in the MAC) will play the Akron-Miami (Ohio) first-round winner in a quarterfinal at noon Thursday.
An NCAA Tournament bid is secure even if UB doesn’t win the MAC Tournament. But the Bulls can earn a strong seeding by winning the MAC title for the fourth time in five years.
UB currently is projected as a No. 6 seed for the NCAAs and stands 16th in the NCAA NET Ratings, they key metric for the selection committee. There’s a fair chance the Bulls could move up to a No. 5 seed if they win the MAC Tournament.
“The next couple weeks is the things that we’ll remember for the rest of our life,” said UB star CJ Massinburg. “It’s the most important part. It’s what we’ve been training for the whole season, the whole offseason.
“We’re gonna be ready,” Massinburg said. “We know what time it is.”
Senior forward Nick Perkins led the Bulls with 22 points. Massinburg scored 15, and senior wing Jeremy Harris had 14.
Bowling Green (20-11, 12-6) played decent half-court defense against the Bulls for long stretches, trapping the Bulls’ ball screens on the wing. The Bulls passed it around the perimeter but couldn’t hit open shots.
The Bulls, the No. 6 scoring team in the nation, came two points shy of their season average despite hitting only 5 of 26 three pointers.
Bowling Green pulled within 55-54 with 12 minutes to go. That’s when Perkins and senior guard Dontay Caruthers took over.
Caruthers’ hustle plays got the Bulls some transition baskets. He had eight assists, six rebounds and four steals.
“He’s Mr. Blue Collar for us,” Oats said. “When we were struggling there when they cut it to one, he got some big steals for us. He makes so many huge effort and hustle plays.”
Then the Bulls started pounding the ball inside to the 6-foot-8 Perkins. He scored 11 points in the last 11 minutes.
“He was a grown man down there, and he was able to carry those guys when they needed a lift,” Huger said.
“When we can’t make a shot, Nick’s obviously a great option we’ve got to go to,” Oats said. “Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t go to him more. We found a way to get him some buckets when we needed some buckets in the middle of the second half.”
“It’s been an amazing journey,” Perkins said. “Coming here as a freshman you want to work hard and get on the floor. God blessed me a lot.”
The Bulls are three wins shy of the MAC record for wins in a season.