Kings of the east
Buffalo wins MAC East title outright
The men’s basketball team collected its first championship of the season. Friday’s win gave Buffalo the outright Mid-American Conference East division title for the second time in school history.
The Bulls (20-7, 12-2 MAC) locked a top-four seed and a bye in the MAC tournament, got to 20 wins faster than any team in program history and broke the program record for most three-pointers made in a season during their recent win against the Bowling Green Falcons (16-11, 7-7 MAC). They are also on pace to break the school record for points per game, currently 3.2 points above the 84.1 record.
“Our guys have been saying this team has got something special since back in the summer, so it’s nice that we can get some of those,” said head coach Nate Oats. “I think they deserve it for the work they put in to build the culture and the culture has been great.”
The Bulls have been dominating in the MAC, starting off with eight straight wins in conference play. They are out-scoring conference opponents by an average of 11.3 this season. Their win against Bowling Green made them the first team in program history to record a victory against every school in the MAC.
Junior forward Nick Perkins said it’s good to know they’re capable of beating any team in the conference come tournament time, but they will still need to focus for any rematches.
“I think it definitely gives us confidence, but it doesn’t change our focus,” Perkins said. “We’re still going to be focused, still going to have to lock in because playing a team two to three times a year, that second and third time are different.”
Perkins has been leading the offense since the start of conference play with 18.3 points per game in MAC games. He is averaging 16.6 on the season.
Three other Bulls are scoring in double-digits as well. Junior guard CJ Massinburg has a season-high 17.5 points for the year. Senior guard Wes Clark and junior guard Jeremy Harris –– both new additions to the team this year –– are averaging 14.9 and 14.8 points respectively.
The biggest thing helping the Bulls’ scoring is their ability to convert from behind the arc. The Bulls’ 12 three-pointers on Friday put them at 265 for the year, two ahead of the previous record set by the 2015-16 MAC championship team.
Oats said the focus on threes has been intentional. The coaching staff wanted to move the team away from mid-range jumpers and focus on shooting from down low or behind the three-point line, according to Oats.
All four double-digit scorers for the Bulls are shooting at least 32 percent from deep. Harris is leading the way at 41 percent with Massinburg just behind at 40 percent.
Perkins and Massinburg are two of only three players on the roster for three years. Oats said the two took on leadership roles with the team this season because of their experience.
Oats’s first year as head coach was the year Massinburg and Perkins came in as freshmen. Now Massinburg and Perkins are fifth and sixth in the MAC in scoring. Massinburg is also sixth in rebounding at 7.6.
“I just feel like it’s part of the process, with me and Nick coming in freshman year and Oats being in his first time being a college [head] coach,” Massinburg said. “We’re very hard workers and eventually things like this will happen. Freshman year I had plans of this year and how good it would be and me and Perkins talked about it all the time.”
The Bulls will now have four games to fine-tune their game and solidify their seeding for the MAC tournament that begins Thursday, March 8 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Clinching the top-four seed guarantees the Bulls a trip there and gives them a bye through the first round, played at home. This is the fifth straight season the Bulls have secured a top-four seed. Oats has been on the coaching staff for all five seasons.
Perkins said the bye is good but knows from last year’s experience it doesn't guarantee anything.
“I think it means a little bit of something, but it doesn't mean much,” Perkins said. “We had one last year and went in the first game and Kent popped us, so it's something that’s good but we’re going to be ready to play [that first tournament game] and just take it game by game because we’ve been there before.”
Daniel Petruccelli is a sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com.