The Buffalo Bulls are now the outright MAC East division champions for just the second time in school history.
Buffalo (20-7, 12-2 Mid-American Conference) hosted the Bowling Green Falcons (16-11, 7-7 MAC) on Friday night in Alumni Arena. The Bulls came away with a 95-82 win over the Falcons, who were the second seed in the MAC East, in a game that was nationally televised on ESPNU. The Bulls clinched the title and a top-four seed in the MAC tournament, which guarantees them a bye heading into Cleveland. Junior guard CJ Massinburg was the top scorer in the game with 24 points. He added 12 boards to register his eighth double-double of the season.
“Before I got here as an assistant I don't think they had ever won the MAC east outright,” said Bulls head coach Nate Oats. “It’s nice, but it’s a small little goal that nobody ever talked about around here, we’ve got way bigger goals but it’s nice, I mean shoot they still got east and west so if they still got it, might as well win it.”
Buffalo had strong offensive performances all over the court with four players finishing in double digits and two players scoring 22 or more points. Good passing opened up the floor for the scoring. The Bulls had four players finish with four or more assists and sophomore guard Davonta Jordan finished with a game-high eight while only surrendering one turnover. Their team total of 24 assists was their highest output since Jan. 16 against the Northern Illinois Huskies.
“I was really happy with our offensive play, 24 assists and eight turnovers, we’ve been talking about getting the turnovers back down in single digits,” Oats said. “We shot the ball well, I think guys have been getting to the gym on their own and shooting and it’s paying off … it helps when you make shots, assists numbers go up.”
Buffalo struggled out of the gate going 1-of-6 from three to start the game. The Falcons were able to stay tight early and the game was tied 20-20 over 10 minutes in. But the Bulls went 5-of-6 from deep to close the half and went into the break up 51-36. This marked the eighth straight game that the Bulls entered halftime with at least an eight point lead.
The Bulls kept up their shooting in the second half as well, going 4-of-6 from deep. They finished with a 60 percent clip for the game. Their 12 made three’s also officially put this team in the school record book with the most threes in a single season. Junior guard Nick Perkins was the most efficient shooter from deep going 3-of-4.
Perkins is shooting 34.1 percent from deep this season, up seven percent from his 27.1 clip last season. His teammates said his shot selection have been a big factor for the increase.
“One thing Nick is doing differently from last year is he’s taking threes at the right time,” Massinburg said. “He starts inside and then he’ll get his three’s flowing in transition or off a pick and pop and things like that but it always seems like it’s at the right time and he’s not out there hunting threes like in years past.”
Perkins scored 22 points in the game.
Falcons sophomore guard Dylan Frye was 3-of-10 for the night and had multiple shots completely miss the basket early in the game. It earned him the nickname “airball” from the student section who proceeded to chant it every time he got the ball for the remainder of the game.
Friday marked the Bulls eighth straight win over the Falcons, tying the all-time series record at 18-18. The victory over the Falcons means this is the first time in school history that a team has beaten all 11 other MAC schools in a single season.
“We know we’re not anywhere close to our ceiling yet,” Oats said. “We’ve got a lot of room to improve on some stuff but it’s great that we’re able to knock out some of those first-evers and school history stuff.”
The Bulls currently hold a half game lead over the Toledo Rockets (19-7, 11-2 MAC) who host the Ball State Cardinals (17-9, 8-5 MAC) on Saturday.
Buffalo will be back in action Tuesday when they travel to oxford to take on the Miami (OH) RedHawks (13-13, 6-7 MAC). Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
Daniel Petruccelli is the sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org