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CJ Massinburg's timely free throws lift UB to MAC Tournament title game

CLEVELAND — CJ Massinburg had only one choice: rise to the occasion in the late minutes of the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team’s 85-81 win against Central Michigan in a MAC Tournament semifinal Friday in Quicken Loans Arena.

Massinburg scored 21 points, including nine points in the final 2:23, and helped the Bulls rally from an eight-point deficit in the second half against the Chippewas.

“I just want to be a reliable person that we can go to, in desperation or when the game is on the line,” Massinburg said. “I just try to keep a calm mind through it, and my teammates, they do a good job of encouraging me.”

The final 2:23, though, started out rocky for Massinburg, as he missed the front end of a pair of free throws after he was fouled by Central Michigan’s Dallas Morgan.

“I think it was maybe two and a half (minutes) left, and I hadn’t shot a free throw. I missed the first one and they were like, ‘Come on, C, this is what you’re made for, you’re our guy, let’s go,’ ” Massinburg said. “And after that, that’s all I needed to hear. That gave me the confidence to go out, and make all the free throws and be a closer.”

Massinburg went 7-for-8 on free throws down the stretch, and added a layup that gave the Bulls an 81-78 win with 31 seconds left.

Massinburg — the MAC player of the year — scored four points in the first half, then broke open for 17 in the second half.

Massinburg wasn’t the specific problem for the Chippewas, as he was one of five players to score in double figures for the Bulls, along with Davonta Jordan (16 points), Nick Perkins (14), Jeremy Harris (12) and Dontay Caruthers (11). But as Central Michigan tried to target one player to shut down, Chippewas coach Keno Davis knew that effort would be futile.

“The best thing I can say about Buffalo is that they’ve got four or five guys that could have been player of the year in the conference,” Davis said. “They keep coming at you. There’s not one guy. With Massinburg, you shut him down or you stop him, and then it’s somebody else coming, whether it’s threes or inside or transition.”

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Massinburg continues to move closer to becoming the Bulls’ all-time leading scorer; he has 1,941 points as the Bulls enter the MAC Tournament championship game Saturday, UB's fourth championship game appearance since 2015 and its third title game with Nate Oats as head coach.

Perkins also moved into fifth all-time among UB’s scoring leaders after scoring 11 points Thursday against Akron, and has 1,731 points going into Saturday.

Javon McCrea is the Bulls’ all-time leading scorer with 2,004 points. McCrea played at UB from 2010 to 2014.

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The Bulls continue to hold as a No. 6 seed in multiple NCAA Tournament projections, updated Friday.

ESPN projects the Bulls as a No. 6 seed in the East region, while CBS Sports projects UB as a six seed in the Midwest region. USA Today also projects UB as a No. 6 seed in the East.

The NCAA announces the 68-team tournament field on Sunday, and the MAC Tournament champion earns an automatic bid. The NCAA Tournament opens Tuesday with the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.

The highest seed a MAC team has earned in the 68-team field prior to this year is a No. 9 seed: Ball State was a 9 seed in 1989, Eastern Michigan in 1996 and Kent State in 2008.

Toledo was a 5 seed in a 40-team field in 1979, and Miami (Ohio) was an 8 seed in a 53-team field in 1984.

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