The Bulls are the Mid-American Conference regular season champions for the first time in school history.
Buffalo (22-8, 14-3 MAC) hosted the Akron Zips (12-17, 5-12 MAC) on Tuesday night. The Bulls defeated Akron 80-68 in their final home game of the season, which was senior night for three players: forward Gabe Agorioge, guard Wes Clark and junior forward Ikenna Smart. The Bulls secured the number one seed in the MAC conference tournament with the win.
“It speaks a lot for how far the program has come in the five years we’ve been here,” said Bulls head coach Nate Oats. “Our goal is to win the regular season then win the tournament. So we’ve got one of the two and would like to win a few games in the NCAA tournament. I think we got the team to do it.”
Buffalo went into the half without the lead for the first time since Dec. 21 in a contest with the Texas A&M Aggies (18-11, 7-9 Southeastern Conference). Buffalo shot 34.5 percent from the field in the first half but turned it around and shot 73.9 percent in the second. Junior guard CJ Massinburg led the way with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Clark followed with 18 points.
With 12:47 left in the second half, Clark hit a jump shot to give the Bulls a 51-49 lead. It was their first lead with 6:20 remaining in the first half. The Bulls went on to outscore Akron 29-11 in the remaining minutes.
“Our effort changed. I always tell them when your effort on defense is really high then your offense tends to follow,” Oats said. “We’ve been so bad coming out in the second half. I warned them about two weeks ago that I’m going to be making a change.”
Clark originally had no one to be there with him on senior night and asked Oats to walk with him for the ceremonies. Oats had a surprise for Clark right before tip off. Oats hid Clark’s mother in his office the whole day. She has never been able to see Clark play in person during his college career until Tuesday night.
“Five seconds before I went out, that’s when I found out. [Oats] almost made me cry on national TV,” Clark said.
Clark played for Oats at Romulus High School where the two went on to win a state championship together. Four years later, neither predicted celebrating the MAC regular season championship together.
Massinburg has been a leader for the team all year. He currently has career highs in average points and rebounds per game.
“It just shows how special this team is,” Masinburg said. “We kind of knew how special we were in the offseason, so we told each other if we gelled the right way we would be able to accomplish things like this.”
Junior forward Nick Perkins and junior guard Jeremy Harris each had 14 points in the victory. Agorioge was able to get his senior night moment thanks to Akron’s head coach John Groce erupting with 24.7 seconds remaining. He picked up two simultaneous technical fouls and was ejected from the arena. Agorioge stepped up to the free throw line and sunk each of his attempts capping off the victory for the Bulls.
The Bulls conclude regular season play on Friday at Bowling Green (16-14, 7-10 MAC).
Nathaniel Mendelson is a staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com.