Bulls move to semifinals

Men’s basketball opens up MAC tournament with an 89-74 win


CLEVELAND — The Bulls are the first men’s team to secure their spot in the semifinals of the 2018 Mid-American Conference Tournament.

The Bulls (24-8, 15-3 MAC) moved into the second round after an 89-74 win against the Central Michigan Chippewas (19-14, 7-11 MAC) on Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena. Junior guard Jeremy Harris had a great game for the Bulls with a double-double and a career-high in points with 27 and added 10 rebounds. Junior guard CJ Massinburg contributed with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

“I was just trying to win, play defense and get out in transition and run,” Harris said in the post-game press conference. “I knew my teammates would find me if I was open.”

The Bulls continued their hot starts in first half and entered the break up 47-38. They were able to create some separation off a pair of 7-0 runs in the first 15 minutes. They also got to the line early with seven of their first 16 points coming from the line on 100% free-throw shooting. Their biggest lead of the first half was 13.

Harris had the best start for the Bulls with 15 points, 4 boards and 2 assists before the break. Massinburg and junior forward Nick Perkins both had 10 points in the first half, as well.

Head Coach Nate Oats had high praise for Harris after the game and his ability to give opposing teams issues.

“He's a matchup nightmare,” Oats said. “He's really good. He can hit threes and he can shoot. … He can play one through four so I think he's your quintessential big wing really.”

The second half was all about runs. The Chippewas came out of the break strong and had an 8-0 run in the first four minutes of the second half that closed the gap to four. The Bulls answered with their own 8-0 run immediately following Central Michigan’s that put the gap back at 12. Two minutes later, the Chippewas went on another 8-0 run that brought them within four of the Bulls at 68-64.

Oats said he tried to change things up for the second half to counteract the team’s struggles in blowing leads.

“I changed the line-up coming out in the second half. I don't have an answer for it,” Oats said. “At least we were able to — after that first four-minute timeout — get ourselves back together. ... Hopefully we get it fixed tomorrow. We keep building leads and giving them away in the first four minutes of the second half.”

Central Michigan was able to capitalize on the runs and close the gap to two with less than six minutes in the game. Buffalo finished out on a 17-4 run to solidify their place in the next round.

Senior forward Cecil Williams finished with 21 points and a game-high 13 boards, leading the Chippewas.

Buffalo got into foul trouble in the second half, picking up 14 fouls in the period, doubling their total from the first. Senior guard Wes Clark and junior guard Dontay Caruthers were close to fouling out with four fouls each. They only had one between them in the first half.

Despite the fouls, Caruthers had an efficient game for the Bulls with a game-high 8 assists and no turnovers. The Bulls assisted on 24-of-31 field goals in the game.

“We share the ball really well anyways and they played that zone,” Oats said. “We move the ball pretty well against the zone and we're a team that shares the ball pretty well, getting in the lane, spread out driving kicks.”

Caruthers also won the “hard-hat” award for the player who contributes the most “blue-collar points” each game for the Bulls, according to Oats. He said blue-collar points come from plays like taking charges and diving for loose balls. Oats said one of the biggest reasons Caruthers won it Thursday was his late-game charge that helped the 17-4 run.

“That's something that I pride myself on,” Caruthers said. “Just trying to make myself different from everybody else. Everybody can score, but every team needs a guy to make the tough plays.”

Buffalo will play Friday against the Kent State Golden Flashes (17-16, 9-9 MAC), one of the three MAC schools to beat Buffalo this season. Tipoff will be at 6:30 p.m.

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