Bulls are back in finals

UB beats Kent State to advance to finals of MAC tournament

7718158928_img_3217

CLEVELAND — Buffalo is heading back to the Mid-American Conference Tournament finals for the third time in four years.

The Bulls (25-8, 15-3 MAC) beat the Kent State Golden Flashes (17-17, 9-9 MAC) 78-61. Junior guard Jeremy Harris led the way again for the Bulls and finished with 22 points and seven boards, bringing his totals in Cleveland to 49 points and 17 boards.

“I have to give the credit to my teammates. They’re the ones that are finding me,” Harris said. “My teammates do a good job of finding me in transition and I make the shot.”

The first five minutes of the game saw six lead changes, but a 10-2 run for the Bulls allowed them to create some separation and put themselves up 15-9. Six minutes later, the Bulls went on a 12-2 run to stretch the lead to 31-17. Kent State kept it tight to close out the half and went into the break down 39-29.

Harris had double-digits in the first half for the second straight game in Cleveland with 13 points.

Freshman guard Jayvon Graves started hot for the Bulls on the defensive end. The Ohio-native had three blocks in the first half as well as five points.

The Bulls started the second half well and outscored the Golden Flashes 17-9 in the first six minutes after the break to put the lead at 56-38. Kent State answered with an 8-0 run that shrunk the gap to 56-46. Buffalo followed up the Golden Flashes’ run with a 12-1 run of their own that put their lead at 68-47.

Kent State never got within 14 points for the rest of the game.

The Bulls kept their turnovers down Friday, only committing eight.

“If we don't turn the ball over, we don't usually have a problem putting the ball in the basket,” said head coach Nate Oats. “We didn't hit 80, but Kent State makes it tough. They do a good job. We scored enough to get the win — but back-to-back games with eight turnovers — if we don't turn the ball over, we're usually pretty good.”

This year’s tournament game between Buffalo and Kent State was a big departure from last year’s. Last season saw both teams combine for 56 fouls and 75 free-throw attempts. The teams combined for less than half of last year’s fouls with 27 on Friday. Kent State picked up an intentional foul in the final two minutes.

“Coach Oats told us before the game that they were going to go out with a fistfight before they went out. We just stayed locked in as a team and played the game of basketball,” Harris said.

Kent State struggled with their shooting and only made 39 percent from the floor. They were even worse behind the arc, going 7-of-25.

Buffalo had less trouble with shooting, converting 47 percent from behind the arc. Harris went 5-of-6 from deep. Junior guard CJ Massinburg went 0-of-3 from deep but finished with 14 points and six rebounds.

Rebounding was an issue for the Bulls. After winning the rebound battle by 15 against Central Michigan, they were out-rebounded by two on Friday and allowed 19 offensive boards compared to their 15.

Buffalo will meet the Toledo Rockets (23-10, 13-5 MAC) on Saturday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Daniel Petruccelli is the sports editor and can be reached at daniel.petruccelli@ubspectrum.com and @DanP_Spectrum.