UB men’s basketball falls to Akron Zips 89-83
Akron Zips lead in the MAC
The Mid-American Conference tournament is shaping up to be highly competitive.
The defending champion Buffalo Bulls (15-14, 9-7 MAC) met the conference leading Akron Zips (23-6, 13-3 MAC) in a rematch of last year’s tournament finals.
The Zips came away with the 89-83 win in front of a rowdy crowd of 6,598 Friday night at Alumni Arena. The Zips had five players finish in double digits. Senior Isaiah Johnson led the way with 19 points on 8 of 11 shooting and six rebounds. Senior wing Blake Hamilton led the way for the Bulls. He finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Buffalo had eight assists but turned the ball over 15 times in the game.
“Ball didn’t move well enough, we didn’t take care of it enough and we didn’t shoot it well enough,” said Bulls head coach Nate Oats. “We shot 41 percent and they shot 56 percent and somehow we were still in the game in the last minute.”
The Zips outshot the Bulls most of the night. Akron shot 7 of 9 from deep in the second half and 59.1 percent for the game. Four different players finished 3 of 4 from deep for Akron. Buffalo shot 2 of 11 from deep in the first half before finishing 7 of 23.
This game was all runs to get things started. Sophomore CJ Massinburg opened up the scoring when he found an open lane to the basket. Akron answered back with eight straight points. Senior wing Blake Hamilton ended the run after he was fouled and made both free throws.
Akron put up six more unanswered, giving themselves a 14-4 lead with 4:03 into the game. Massinburg helped start a six point Buffalo rally. He was fouled and went to the line for two, he sunk the first. He missed the second attempt but got his own rebound before getting to the outside and sinking a three.
Senior Raheem Johnson gave the Bulls their only tie of the day. He made two straight layups to tie things at 22 with 6:33 left in the first half. Akron took a five point lead into the break 38-33.
“It’s a mental thing, when we’re playing them we have to come out 40 minutes mentally focused and physically focused,” said senior wing Willie Conner. “I think at some points of the game the mental part wasn’t there for us.”
Akron came out of the break strong and started the second half with a 12-2 run over the first 4:41. Buffalo missed their first three shots of the second half. Conner scored Buffalo’s first basket of the half when he hit a layup 2:37 into the half, leaving the Bulls trailing 43-35. Conner finished with 18 points.
Buffalo struggled through the middle of the second half. Akron broke away and carried a double digit lead for over eight minutes of the second half. The zips largest lead was 17.
“I thought we fought, we get down 17 and a lot of people could have hung it up and quit, I give our guys a lot of credit for staying in there and fighting,” Oats said.
Buffalo came back strong towards the end of the game. With the crowd behind them, Buffalo tried to rally back. They stayed within eight points through the final five minutes. But crucial misses cost the Bulls and they couldn’t overcome the deficit.
Oats was critical of his team’s shooting in the game.
“We have to get better shooting,” Oats said. “Willie goes three for five, and the next best thing we got was 2 for 6, Perkins 0 for 4, Caruthers 0 for 2… we have to get better, we just have to, it’s hard to win games like this when they’ve got shooters spaced all over the floor.”
Buffalo handily won the battle on the boards. They came away with a 42-22 advantage in rebounds. Massinburg finished 10 boards, a game-high, and 17 points. They turned the advantage into a 27-6 difference in second chance points.
The game got physical with 47 personal fouls in the game.
“You know you’re going to battle every night when you play Buffalo,” said Akron head coach Keith Dambrot. “We know we’re going to get hit in the mouth and hit in the back and we have to battle and if we don’t show toughness we’re not going to win.”
The Bulls next game will be Tuesday when they visit the Ohio Bobcats (18-8, 10-5 MAC). The game will be important for MAC tournament seeding. After two straight losses Buffalo is now the fourth seed in the tournament.
Daniel Petruccelli is the assistant sports editor and can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org