A perfect send-off
Buffalo’s five seniors lead Bulls to win in final home game of season
Men’s basketball head coach Nate Oats had a different starting lineup for the first time this season. Seniors Dontay Caruthers, CJ Massinburg, Jeremy Harris, Nick Perkins and Montell McRae started the final home game of their careers together.
The Bulls defeated Bowling Green 84-73 in front of the largest crowd at Alumni Arena this season of 6,709. Buffalo already clinched the Mid-American Conference regular season title but used the night to celebrate the program’s legacy and the final games of the seniors’ careers.
“I think it's really cool going out the way we did,” said senior guard CJ Massinburg. “We haven’t lost a game here since December of last year. That’s one thing that no one can ever take away from us. We protect the home court. I give credit to you guys and the fans. You guys bring the energy and it’s just amazing. I really appreciate Buffalo.”
Massinburg’s story is well known by now. The senior, who had only one Division-I offer coming out of high school, was almost given a red-shirt his first year on campus and has now become one of the best players in school history.
The senior guard scored 15 points Friday, passing Rasaun Young for second-most points all-time with 1,910 points. Young’s number 11 jersey was retired at halftime.
He is also one of the only players in the nation with at least 1,900 points, 700 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals in his career.
Massinburg and senior forward Nick Perkins are the only two seniors to play all four years in Buffalo. In their time on campus, they increased the win total in conference play each year and have accumulated 92 total wins, the most in any four-year span of the program.
On Friday, they set a new record for wins in a season.
“It’s great to win 28 and it’s still the regular season,” Oats said. “It’s pretty incredible what these guys have done. These seniors have taken this program to unbelievable heights.”
Massinburg has been the star, but Perkins has been no slouch himself. He won back-to-back MAC Sixth Man of the Year awards and is on his way towards a third this season.
Perkins added 22 points and surpassed the 1,700-point mark for his career. He and Massinburg are each in the top-five scorers in school history.
Buffalo celebrated the careers of Harris, Caruthers and McRae as well. The three haven’t spent their whole college careers at UB but are each integral to the growth and success these past two years.
Harris shocked family and friends when he decided to transfer from Gulf Coast State College.
“When I first came here, everyone always asked me, ‘Why Buffalo,’” Harris said. “They would always say, ‘You’re from North Carolina, it’s cold up there.’ But look at me now.”
Fans will remember Harris for torching first overall pick in the NBA draft, DeAndre Ayton, in the NCAA tournament last year.
McRae has been the quietest of the bunch since transferring last year but has been one of the most efficient players in the NCAA this season. McRae is a large presence in the locker room as he keeps everybody loose, according to Oats.
Caruthers is the only Western New York native of the group, after playing at East High. Caruthers spent a year under current assistant coach Bryan Hodgson at Midland Community College until both came to UB.
Caruthers has been named the MAC defensive player of the year and he hopes to win it a second time this season.
“It’s been a great three years,” Caruthers said. “You took me in like a family member here. You guys give me the energy to play like I do. I just wanted to say thank you and I appreciate you from the bottom of my heart.”
The five seniors combined for 65 of the team’s 84 points of the night. The Bulls are currently tied for the longest home-winning streak in the nation at 25 with Tennessee. The streak is guaranteed to last until at least September without a home game until next season.
Buffalo has its eyes set on the MAC tournament title, which will begin on Wednesday and conclude on Saturday. The Bulls have guaranteed themselves an NCAA tournament bid and most likely have at least four games left this season.
When the final buzzer sounds during the NCAA tournament, the greatest senior class and greatest year in UB men’s basketball history will end. They said until then, they’re going to enjoy the ride.
“The next couple weeks is the things that we’ll remember for the rest of our life,” Massinburg said. “It’s the most important part.”
Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NateMendelson.