The #1 Buffalo Bulls and #8 Central Michigan Chippewas met in the first game of the Men’s MAC Tournament at noon today, the Bulls being favored to win. Both teams got off to slow starts, with Buffalo missing inside and CMU missing from deep. The two teams seemed to both be fighting a little bit of nerves, as neither looked like they were executing to their full extent.
However, the Bulls put together a mini run in the middle of the first half to build their lead to around 10 points from 10 minutes on. Led by Nick Perkins inside and Dontay Caruthers passing, the Bulls seemed to be find their stride.
Although the Bulls got up, they couldn’t seem to push their lead past 15, as CMU began to hit some shots from deep. Despite only shooting 25% from beyond the arc in the first half, it seemed the Chippewas hit a shot every time the game felt like it would run away from them. That being said, the Bulls never let them build on their momentum, as CJ Massinburg or Jeremy Harris hit big threes to limit the runs.
Free throws were also big in the first half, as the Bulls were 8/10 and the Chippewas, who were number 2 in the nation, shot just 4/7. Overall the Bulls held the edge in the first half.
The second half got underway with two big three pointers by Harris and Massinburg, although once again, the Chippewas didn’t let them escape with a four point play of their own. The Chippewas then battled back to make it a 4 point game, with 16:30 left in the game.
The Bulls were getting offensive rebounds, however they struggled to finish inside. The Chippewas had all the momentum heading in to the U16 timeout, a dangerous issue with a lower seed making a push. However, out of the timeout, the Bulls were focused and Jayvon Graves hit a big three, followed by 4 straight by Harris to get the lead quickly back to 11.
By the under eight timeout however, the Chippewas made a run to get the game to 70-66 with two free throws coming out of the break. The Bulls were hurt by some calls that included a Jayvon Graves block and a CJ Massinburg touch foul on a rebound. CMU was capitalizing at the line and the Bulls needed a run coming out of the timeout.
The Bulls and Chips exchanged baskets, before another Harris three pointer and Massinburg layup pushed the lead back up to 77-72 with 3:17 left. The Buffalo crowd began to come alive, as the Bulls looked to get some sort of flow going late in the game. CMU had been scoring only at the free throw line, so the Bulls would look to limit their fouls.
When the game came down to crunch time however, the Bulls had big three point shots by Wes Clark and CJ Massinburg, to help push the game to 9 with under two minutes to go. The defense stepped up late, and some Nick Perkins free throws pushed the Bulls to an 85-74 lead with just a minute left in the game.
This game was an exciting one, and kudos to the Chippewas for playing hard all game. They used the free throw line to their advantage and kept this game close, but the Bulls were just too good on offense, making shots when they needed, and never giving up the lead in the second half. The Buffalo Bulls are on to the MAC semi-finals with a 89-74 victory!