The Bulls dynasty
Buffalo's third MAC title solidifes its spot as a top team in the conference
CLEVELAND — The Bulls are now the Mid-American Conference regular season and MAC Tournament champions in the same year for the first time in school history.
Buffalo (26-8, 15-3 MAC) came away with three wins, culminating in a 76-66 win over the Toledo Rockets (23-11, 13-5 MAC) Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The win gave the Bulls their third MAC Tournament title in four years –– a feat that has only been accomplished one other time in the 38-year history of the MAC Tournament. Bulls head coachNate Oats was on the staff for all three titles and has been head coach for the last two.
In Saturday’s postgame interview, Oats gave the credit to his players.
“Let's not act like I'm some genius coach,” Oats said. “Sometimes, coaching is a little overrated. You get the best players. You get them to play hard. You win a lot of games.”
The Bulls were the MAC coaches’ preseason selection to be runners-up in the tournament, getting one less vote than Western Michigan who didn’t make it to Cleveland. The Bulls exceeded expectations with new additions junior guard Jeremy Harris and senior guard Wes Clark, who took the MAC by storm and earned all-MAC second and third team honors, respectively.
They both delivered for the Bulls this weekend, and both were named to the all-tournament team. Clark was chosen as the MVP of the tournament.
Harris hit 59 percent of his shots from the floor and 64 percent from behind the arc, Thursday and Friday.
He didn’t score as well on Saturday, but he still shot 40 percent from deep and had a team-high eight rebounds.
Clark took over as the primary scorer in the championship game. He ended his MAC career the same way he began it –– with a 25-plus point performance to lift the Bulls over Toledo.
“I watched the Toledo game the first time and he killed them. That was maybe his best game,” Oats said. “I told him this morning, take a peek at your [highlight film] because you destroyed them.”
The Bulls entered the tournament as a top-10 scoring team in the nation and shot over 50 percent in their previous 10 games heading into Thursday. They never quite found the same shot during the tournament and only converted 45 percent over the three games. They also failed to reach their team-scoring average in all three games.
But the Bulls found other ways to get it done in Cleveland
“We pride ourselves on doing the tough plays and really focusing in on the grind,” Clark said.
The Bulls showed their toughness in the second half of the tournament and closed-out games well. Opposing teams outscored the Bulls in the second half of 50 percent of their conference games this season, but the Bulls outscored their opponents by a total of 123-105 in second halves during the tournament.
Junior guard CJ Massinburg and junior forward Nick Perkins were both first team all-MAC selections and had solid tournaments.
Massinburg averaged 12 points and six boards in the tournament. His best game was in the quarterfinals when he added 18 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Perkins averaged 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds. He went 1-for-8 in the first half and picked up a technical foul early in the second for spiking the ball. He was able to compose himself and was 5-for-7 in the second half for 13 points. Five of those points came in the final three minutes to help the Bulls separate from the Rockets.
“It was really just me slowing down and just finishing,” Perkins said. “In the second half, I just slowed down, got to my spot and just finished. That was really the big difference.”
Oats said another trip to the NCAA Tournament will help grow the momentum the program already has. He said that was the biggest reason for him signing the contract extension until 2023.
“The recruiting class we've got coming in next year is a big reason, along with [Harris, Perkins and Massinburg],” Oats said. “All these guys are back next year. [That’s] why I really wanted to get a contract and stay here. We've got something building.”
He also expressed his gratitude towards former UB Athletic director Danny White who originally hired him as the head coach of the team.
“I've got to give Danny White tons of credit,” Oats said. “I love him for giving me a shot. I was a high school coach two years before he hired me as a Division-I coach. Most people won't do that.”
Now Buffalo will compete in what Oats called “the greatest sporting event on the earth.” The Bulls start the tournament against fourth-seeded Arizona Wildcats (27-7, 14-4 Pac-12) in Boise, Idaho on Thursday.