UB Bulls clinch No. 3 seed in MAC Tournament with win over Bowling Green

Buffalo defeats Falcons in regular season finale


Through all of the ups and downs of the 2015-16 season, the Buffalo men’s basketball team still managed to clinch a first-round bye in the upcoming Mid-American Conference Tournament. 

With an 87-83 win over Bowling Green on Friday night, the Bulls (17-14, 10-8 MAC) clinched the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament in Cleveland, Ohio. Four MAC teams finished with a 10-8 conference record, but Buffalo holds tiebreakers over the other three teams (Kent State, Ball State and Central Michigan).

Buffalo could have dropped to as low as the No. 6 seed with a loss, but a late scoring push - and other MAC teams losing - eliminated any chance of that happening.

The Bulls trailed by four points with 2:17 left in the game but it was stout defense and free throw shooting that bailed them out. Junior wing Blake Hamilton got the run going when he was fouled on a pull-up jumper and hit both the shot and the follow-up free throw to pull Buffalo within one.

Sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden scored the Bulls’ next four points following a Bowling Green lay up to give Buffalo an 84-83 lead.

The Falcon’s offense would not register another point.

Buffalo forced two straight turnovers while the Bulls made three of their final four free throws. Hamilton sealed the game with his final shot from the charity stripe to put the Bulls up by four with seven seconds to go.

Hamilton tied Bearden for a game-high 20 points and added five rebounds, three assists and two steals in 27 minutes. The junior college transfer finished his first season with Buffalo as the team’s second-highest scorer (12.9 points a game) and led the team in rebounds (6.6 a game). He was also named a finalist for MAC Player of the Year.

Bearden had an equally as impressive all-around game as he finished with 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. He leads the team with 13.6 points a game this season.

Junior wing Willie Conner was instrumental at the beginning of the game. He dropped eight of his 15 points within the first 4:17 of the game, including Buffalo’s first five points, as the Bulls opened the game on a 7-0 run. Conner finished his first season in Buffalo as the team’s third-highest scorer this season with 11.5 points a game.

Freshman guard CJ Massinburg finished with 12 points and three rebounds to round off an impressive freshman campaign. Massinburg had a resurgent second half of the season and carried Buffalo on multiple occasions.

Massinburg finished with 11.3 points and nearly four rebounds per game this year. He is up for MAC Freshman of the Year. It is the second straight season a Buffalo guard is nominated for the award. Bearden was nominated for the award last season.

Buffalo has earned a first-round bye for the third straight season. The Bulls will play the winner of No. 12 seed Miami Ohio (12-19, 6-12 MAC) and No. 6 seed Ball State (19-12, 10-8 MAC) next Thursday night in Cleveland.

Tipoff is set roughly 30 minutes after the completion of the 6:30 p.m. matchup between No. 2 seed Ohio (20-10, 11-7 MAC) and the winner of Northern Illinois (20-11, 9-9 MAC) and Western Michigan (13-18, 7-11 MAC).

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman.