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Bulls show out against Ohio

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The Bulls could have scored 6 points in the first half and won. Instead, they scored 52.

UB men’s basketball comfortably defeated Ohio 114-67 on Tuesday night. It was the highest-scoring output they’ve had all season and the most points against a Division-I opponent ever. The 1.43 points per possession is a season high and highest in Nate Oats’ head coaching tenure. It was exactly the type of win Buffalo needed.

“That’s what we’ve been looking for,” Oats said. “We talked about getting a solid 40 minutes on both sides of the ball and last time we think we had it was against Toledo here. We were looking to make a point. It’s time. We have two-and-a-half weeks to go in the regular season and want to make a run in March.”

The Bulls will likely be making a run in March, but they currently sit in second place in the conference standings, losing the tie-breaker with Bowling Green. Buffalo will most likely not have to win the Mid-American Conference tournament to make it into the NCAA tournament this year. They increased their argument for a higher seed with Tuesday’s win.

The Bulls haven’t been as efficient as they would like to be in the month of February. The new-to-this-season NET rankings have made Oats emphasize efficiency and led to his team running up the score on occasion.

Buffalo currently sits at 21 in the NET rankings, or a six-seed in the NCAA tournament.

The Bulls were as efficient as they’ve been all season in the first half. UB forced Ohio into nine turnovers as they made quick work of the Bobcats. Sophomore guard Jayvon Graves was unconscious from three, breaking his career high for makes in only 14 minutes. Graves, who grew up in Ohio, gave a treat to his fans back home as he finished 6-6 from three for 19 points in the first.

“My teammates found me at the right spots,” Graves said. “I was struggling the past few games and I was confident today. Once I made the third one, I knew it was going to be a good night.”

But you can’t win by 47 with just one player making shots. The Bulls had four players finish in double figures for scoring and three more with 9 points. Senior forward Montell McRae hit 4-6 for 11 points, freshman forward Jeenathan Williams had his best offensive performance of the season with 13 points and senior guard CJ Massinburg was his usual self with another 23-point performance.

It was a rare night where Buffalo finished shooting the ball better from three than they did overall. The Bulls hit a program-record 19 3-point shots as eight players recorded at least one made.

Still, as Buffalo broke records, there was more emphasis on the impact it would have in the polls. That ultimately determines the Bulls’ postseason position. College basketball insider and AP voter Jon Rothstein has tweeted “Buffalo basketball. Seek and destroy” after each of the Bulls’ wins. Rothstein has left the Bulls off of his ballot the past three weeks.

“Last week we were ranked No. 23 [in the Associated Press Top 25 poll]. We win a couple games and we fell to 25,” Massinburg said. “But people are noticing our wins and what’s supposed to be a dominating win, and we’re escaping by 6 or 4 points. The committee is looking at that type of stuff. So we’re trying to take it possession by possession and give a max effort. We can show the world we can get a very convincing win.”

Oats agreed.

“If we’re going to get back into those conversations, we’re going to have to have multiple wins like this. Not just one.” 

The Bulls are in the midst of a three-game homestand after playing five of the previous eight games on the road. Buffalo plays Kent State at 7 p.m. on Friday. UB won the previous matchup 88-79 on the road with Massinburg and senior forward Nick Perkins each scoring 20.

Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at nathaniel.mendelson@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @NateMendelson.