Upset in Morgantown
Buffalo takes down No. 13 West Virginia
The Bulls were down 84-81 with 15 seconds remaining. It was obvious who was going to take the game-tying shot.
Senior guard CJ Massinburg pulled up from eight feet beyond the three-point line and swished it. The Bulls finally stormed back from a 13-point second-half deficit.
Buffalo kept the momentum into overtime, defeating the No. 13-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers 99-94.
The Bulls (2-0) became the first team since 1989 to defeat the Mountaineers (0-1) in their home opener. Massinburg led the way with a career-high 43 points and nine three-pointers made. Buffalo beat West Virginia at its own game by controlling the offensive boards and forcing more turnovers.
“I told our guys, ‘You got all the people watching from the NCAA Tournament but we’ve never beat a Top 15 team on the road,’” head coach Nate Oats said. “Even though it’s not in the NCAA Tournament, I think it’s a tougher and a bigger win than the Arizona one.”
Oats didn’t think his players could win if they shot the same way against the Mountaineers that they did against the Saint Francis Red Flash Tuesday. The Bulls shot 42.9 percent from the field against Saint Francis, and they shot 40 percent against West Virginia.
Fans and media members took to Twitter to react to the Buffalo upset. Famed basketball commentator Dick Vitale congratulated Massinburg and many former players did the same.
“Stop playing with my guy,” former guard Wes Clark wrote on Twitter. “Big time players show up in big time games. More to come. Congrats [CJ Massinburg].”
True Blue members said they are still celebrating the win, with many fans claiming there is more to come.
“Huge win by the baddest boiz in the biz,” Kyle Yagielski, the unofficial Bulls mascot UB Naked Guy, wrote via text message. “Nate Oats going for coach of the year consideration, no doubt. A lot of people calling it an upset as well, but we actually went into the game expecting a win. We know how good our team is, even if the rest of the world doesn’t! This win puts us in big fat nationally ranked territory baby!”
Yagielski, a senior media studies major, said the win has only made the fanbase more excited for the season. True Blue vice president Brian Hebbard shared Yagielski’s sentiments and said he felt teams were underestimating Buffalo.
“Beating a team like West Virginia makes us all really excited for this season,” said Hebbard, a senior exercise science and athletic training major. “We’re all ready to show the rest of the country what Buffalo athletics are all about.”
Buffalo kept itself in the game through its offensive rebounding. The Bulls had 21 offensive rebounds leading to a 14-shot advantage.
Massinburg had seven offensive rebounds.
Massinburg was the only Bull to shoot the ball well. He finished 12-22 from the field and 9-15 on three pointers. Massinburg’s 43 points are the most scored by a Buffalo player ever in a road game. The nine threes rank third for a single game.
After junior guard Davonta Jordan missed a three with 20 seconds remaining, Massinburg knew he had to take the next shot. Oats called a second consecutive play for Massinburg and, despite being 35 feet away from the hoop, he shot the ball the second it was in his hands.
“That was a great teammate move but the next one I got to shoot it,” Massinburg said. “I gave it to [Nick] Perkins and I immediately called for it back. It was going up.”
The win marked the second time in four games Buffalo defeated a nationally ranked opponent. The last time was a 89-68 victory against No. 15 Arizona during the NCAA tournament.
Oats’ preparation was key to Friday’s victory. Oats is a former high school math teacher who taught statistics labs while getting his masters.
Oats had an analytics day with the team and wanted them to tell him what they thought was bad last season. One stat that stuck out was they did not force enough turnovers.
“We didn’t want to do it by gambling and getting out of position,” Oats said. “We got to get a little longer in the gaps, a little more ball pressure, do a better job at shrinking the floor when teams try to drive.”
It also helps that the Bulls have former Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year, senior guard Dontay Caruthers, and Jordan who was on the all-MAC defensive team last season.
Buffalo had to eliminate its own turnovers. The Bulls had six turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game.
They finished with 11 total.
“They beat us at our own game,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “We generally force more turnovers than we commit. They got us 19-11 there. We are, generally, one of the premier rebounding teams in the country and they got us there.”
Buffalo has yet to shoot well in a game this season but Oats knows his guys will start knocking them down. Oats does not care if his players are five seconds or 25 seconds into the shot clock, if they are open he wants them to shoot it.
This rings especially true for senior forward Jeremy Harris who is shooting 3 of 20 from behind the arc this season.
The Bulls still have a long way to go this season to return to the NCAA Tournament. They face matchups against Syracuse and Marquette in December. But for now, Buffalo can celebrate until it takes on Southern Illinois (0-1) Monday.
*Thomas Zafonte contributed to this story
Nathaniel Mendelson is the sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NateMendelson