CLEVELAND, OH – Survive and advance.
That’s what March is all about across the college basketball landscape.
Buffalo fans experienced that firsthand on Friday evening at Quicken Loans Arena, watching the Bulls squeak by Central Michigan 85-81 to advance to the MAC Championship on Saturday versus Bowling Green.
UB jumped out to an early seven point lead before the tides took a turn for the worst.
Central Michigan had an answer for seemingly everything the Bulls threw at them.
The Chippewas were playing fast and making things look easy, shooting over 51% from the field during the first half.
“I feel they was really ready to play us. Their game plan was nice, their transition offense was really good. We adjusted in the second half and kind of stopped their transition better than we did in the first half,” said CJ Massinburg.
Central Michigan took a 42-37 lead into the break and kept on the accelerator coming out of the locker room.
They quickly extended their lead to eight to the shock of many UB fans at the Q.
That said, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the Bulls clawed their way back.
Buffalo quietly cut into the Chippewas lead, hitting the glass hard, out-rebounding CMU 47-30, using an 18-7 advantage in second-chance points to get back in the contest.
Nate Oats needed his team to be more aggressive on the glass because they couldn’t connect from deep.
The Bulls were 6-32 (18.8%) from behind the arc, a big reason why they were unable to get any serious momentum going throughout the night.
“We have to figure out a different way to win this game, we have to get some O-boards, we have to make some tough plays. Sometimes shots don’t drop. Still got to figure out how to win the game,” said Nate Oats.
Montell McRae gave UB their first lead of the second half doing exactly that, scoring on a putback layup with 8:11 remaining.
It was back and forth from there with the two teams tied at 76 with 3:33 left in the contest.
From there, it was a CJ Massinburg special on how to close a game.
The senior leader scored nine points down the stretch, hitting seven free throws to salt the game away for Buffalo.
“I just want to be a reliable person that we can go to in desperation or when the game is on the line, and I just try to keep a calm mind through it,” said Massinburg.
Massinburg struggled for the majority of the evening but came up big when needed the most, finishing with 21 points and nine rebounds.
Four other Bulls scored in double-figures with Davonta Jordan lighting up the box score, posting 16 points and seven rebounds.
Nick Perkins was strong in the paint, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Buffalo advances to their fourth MAC Championship appearance during the past five years. They’ve won their previous three.
Tipoff is set for Saturday at 7:30 pm on ESPN2.