​UB men’s basketball runs out of magic in Cleveland

Buffalo’s MAC Tournament three-peat dream ends in quarterfinals


CLEVELAND, OHIO – As the clock ticked under two seconds in the MAC tournament quarterfinal Thursday night, UB sophomore guard CJ Massinburg hoisted up a prayer of a three-point attempt with a defender in his face to try and tie the game.

As the shot floated through the air, Quicken Loans Arena went silent. 

The Kent State-tilted crowd of 3,352 held their breath, as they all wondered the same thing: Did two-time defending MAC Champion Buffalo have one more magic moment in them?

But the shot fell short, and with it, so did Buffalo’s chance at history.

Massinburg walked off holding his head. Senior guard Blake Hamilton sobbed as his college basketball career came to an end. One of Buffalo’s student managers sat motionless on the bench for nearly 10 minutes as both teams headed back to the locker room.

“It’s hard to live with,” said head coach Nate Oats after the game. “We won it here two years in a row, [the players] fully expected to win this thing again.”

The Bulls were hoping to become the first team to ever win the MAC tournament three years in a row. But that ended abruptly when eventual champion Kent State defeated Buffalo 68-65 in the first game of the weekend.

There’s a reason why no team has ever won the MAC tournament three times in a row. College basketball is a game of desperation in March. No team wins a conference tournament without overcoming moments of anguish as their season hangs on the brink.

In recent years, Buffalo has navigated those moments of anguish with expert precision. This year, it proved to be too much to overcome. 

Three of their starters, including Hamilton and sophomore forward Nick Perkins, fouled out of the game in regulation. UB trailed for the entire second half. At one point, the team was down by13 points. 

When they inbounded the ball after cutting the lead to 68-65 with seven seconds left, they had a chance at another defining March moment.

“I should have created more separation on the three instead of initial pass, trying to get it back, but you can't really blame the game or put fault on the last play,” Massinburg said. “We missed a couple free throws. It could be a tied up game… You make free throws and you're not even in that position.”

Despite nearly pulling off a desperate comeback, Buffalo played poorly for much of the game. As a team, they turned the ball over 13 times compared to just seven assists. They shot just 35.3 percent from the field.

Some of the sloppy play can be attributed to the fact that Hamilton was in foul trouble all night long, limiting Buffalo’s top playmaker. The referees were active with their whistles all game long and Hamilton fouled out despite only picking up two defensive fouls.

He was called for two charging fouls and saw his career end on an over-the-back foul with just under five minutes left.

He struggled to put it into context after the game.

“I had been in foul trouble the whole game, that takes away from some of my aggressiveness,” Hamilton said. “For me to foul out that early, that's, I don't know.  I don't really got much to say on that.”

The blessing and curse of the MAC tournament is that almost always, only one team will move on to the NCAA Tournament. Regular season output is just a formality. Buffalo knows that better than anyone.

Anyone can walk into Cleveland and get hot at the right time, as No. 6 seeded Kent State proved this year. 

Winning it all in March is about more than just being good – it’s about having a perfect marriage of luck and talent. 

This year, Buffalo’s luck came up the same as their final shot of the season – just a little bit short. 

Michael Akelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at michael.akelson@ubspectrum.com