BUFFALO, NY – The University at Buffalo men's basketball team clinched at least a share of the Mid-American Conference Regular Season title on Tuesday night with a huge second half effort as the Bulls defeated Akron, 80-68, at Alumni Arena in their final regular season home game. The Bulls improved to 22-8 with the win and 14-3 in MAC play. The 14 wins are a new program record for MAC victories, while UB finished 14-1 at home, which is tied for the most home victories in school history.
For the first time since Dec. 21, UB saw itself trailing at the half as Akron shot 60.0% in the first half, including hitting seven three-pointers. However, the Bulls were able to force Akron into 13 first-half turnovers as UB trailed 38-32 at the break. The six-point halftime deficit was UB's largest since they trailed by nine at the break at Syracuse.
The Bulls came out after the break and dominated the second half, outscoring Akron, 48-30. UB shot just under 74% in the half, going 17-of-23 over the final 20 minutes. Akron on the other hand shot just 32.4% in the second half.
The Zips scored the first points of the second half as they took a 40-32 lead, but junior Jeremy Harris responded quickly with a three as the Bulls went on a quick 13-5 run, capped off on a fast-break three from senior Wes Clark, tying the game up at 45-45 with 16:17 left.
The game remained tied at 49-49 when the Bulls scored five straight points, as a three from CJ Massinburg put the Bulls ahead 54-49 with 12:06 left. UB built its lead up to seven at 60-53, but Akron responded with a 7-0 run to tie it back up. The Bulls got back-to-back buckets from Harris and junior Nick Perkins to take the 64-60 lead and they never trailed again.
The Zips had their chances as they pulled within three twice, including with 1:26 left. The Bulls responded with a thunderous dunk from Perkins to go up five. Massinburg then hit four straight free throws to put the Bulls up 77-68 with 32 seconds left.
Following another Akron turnover, Zips head coach John Groce was ejected after a pair of technical fouls and UB head coach Nate Oats used the four free throws as a chance to reward his seniors. Ikenna Smart, who has been a member of the UB basketball team for four seasons despite redshirting his first year, split a pair of free throws on the first technical. Senior walk on Gabe Agorioge then checked in and got the opportunity to shoot the second pair of free throws, draining both and sending the crowd into a frenzy. The Bulls were then able to dribble out the clock, sending their seniors off with a win and a regular season conference title.
The Bulls got 72 points from four players tonight, led by Massinburg, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. Massinburg was 8-of-13 from the floor and 5-of-8 from three. He also hit all five of his free throws, while adding two assists and two blocks.
Clark, playing in his final regular season game at Alumni Arena, finished with 18 points and five assists, while Harris and Perkins each finished with 14 points.
All three UB seniors were able to find the scoring column in the contest. They were honored after the game, along with head manager Wesley Scheier.
With the strong second half, the Bulls have now shot 50% or better from the floor in nine straight contests. The Bulls also hit the 80-point mark for the 23rd time this season, which is the most in the nation.
With tonight's victory, UB has clinched the #1 seed in the upcoming Mid-American Conference Tournament. With the #1 seed also comes an automatic bid to the NIT; however, the Bulls will be heading to Cleveland looking for their third MAC title in four years.
Prior to the trip to Cleveland, the Bulls have one more regular season game, which will be Friday night at Bowling Green. The game will tip off at 6pm and it will air nationally on ESPNU. The Bulls will clinch the MAC Regular Season Title outright with a win against the Falcons.