Facing the conference's top seed in the MAC final for the second consecutive year, the UB Men's Basketball team came into today looking to make not only Buffalo history, but conference history, as no Men's program had repeated as MAC champions since Kent State in 2002.
Once again, the Bulls faced not only the MAC's regular season champion, but also the Coach of the Year and a team that had beaten them twice in regular-season play in East Division rivals Akron. In the end, a dagger three-pointer with two seconds left from junior Blake Hamilton iced the game 64-61 to send UB back to the NCAA Tournament.
Blake Hamilton! Onions! pic.twitter.com/OS9E6YzqoG— Nick Veronica (@NickVeronica) March 13, 2016
Freshman CJ Massinburg who this time last year weren't even on the radar, led the Bulls for much of the game and finished with 18 points, while Hamilton tallied a double-double. Antino Jackson scored 14 for the Zips, whose inside size confounded Buffalo's normally rim-oriented offense and baited UB into at times taking too many threes.
The Bulls did lead for much of the night, but the game and the title came down to the response to Akron's first lead at 55-54 entering the final minutes. A 58-58 tie with three minutes to play became a 61-61 tie with 90 seconds left before the winning shot.
As we said yesterday of the UB Women, the UB Men weren't even supposed to be here after a wild offseason, an inconsistent nonconference showing, and a February swoon. But they handled Miami and Ohio earlier this week without too much issue and led for long stretches tonight, showing the strength of the program's foundation that has seen largely unbroken success through five years with three different coaches.
A 16-2 run out of the break, capped by Massinburg's career-high-tying fourth three pointer, appeared to break the game open for Buffalo, though they were unable to capitalize as Akron hit six threes in the first twelve minutes of the second half and took their first lead at 55-54.
Buffalo had led for much of the first on the back of Massinburg, but hit the break tied 33 with the Zips, who enjoyed a predictably significant home court advantage just miles from their usual home court. As earlier today, the second half was closer, but the final result was an eerily similar second nailbiter on the day for UB fans after the Women's thrilling victory and a cap on one of the most memorable 48 hours in UB Athletics history.
The game was in large part played from the floor, as the teams combined for just ten free throws, hitting all ten. UB's 43-31 advantage on the boards may have been the difference, especially considering Buffalo tallied just eight assists to the Zips' 17.
Massinburg's big night brought him to 385 points on the season, just 15 away from Javon McCrea's UB freshman mark. The Bulls are the first Men's team to repeat as MAC champions since Kent State in 2001 and 2002, and the first school to claim both Men's and Women's Championships since the Golden Flashes in 2002.
We'll learn UB's NCAA fate tomorrow night on the Selection Show, which begins (newly!) at 5:30 PM.