No. 18 Buffalo faces tough test vs. Bowling Green for MAC title
Relief appeared to outweigh pride Friday at Cleveland when No. 18 Buffalo advanced to the Mid-American Conference championship, where it will play Bowling Green.
Buffalo might have looked like the prohibitive favorite to start the conference tournament, but the Bulls' 85-81 victory over the conference's fifth-seeded team in Central Michigan was a reminder that a repeat MAC tournament title will be a tough task, much less a deep run in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
The top-seeded Bulls (30-3) will face the third-seeded Falcons (22-11) for the conference title Saturday. Bowling Green is the last team Buffalo lost to before going on its current 11-game winning streak.
Bowling Green was also the picture of relief Friday as they blew every bit of a 23-point lead to Northern Illinois in their own MAC semifinal but still finished off a 71-67 victory behind 25 points from junior guard Dylan Frye.
Back on Feb. 1, Bowling Green earned a 92-88 victory at home over Buffalo, but the Bulls avenged that defeat in the regular-season finale on March 8 with an 84-73 decision.
Buffalo head coach Nate Oats has had plenty to celebrate in recent days, like a pair of MAC tournament victories and a new five-year contract extension, but a relentless Chippewas team Friday had him showing more exhaustion over what had transpired.
"I'll give our guys credit that they figured out how to win a game," Oats said. "We couldn't make a shot from (the) three (point range). ... We were going to have to figure out a different way. Get boards, turn them over, get some transition buckets. We did a little bit of everything and did just enough to squeak out of here with a win."
Buffalo either trailed or was tied for a majority of the second half. But one sign that the Bulls can figure out ways to win: They are 11-0 when they shoot under 30 percent from 3-point range in a game, like they did Friday.
The first two games of the conference tournament have been a challenge for conference player of the year C.J. Massinburg, who has gone a combined 3 of 14 from the field in each of the two opening halves at Cleveland.
But Massingburg still willed the Bulls into the MAC title game, with six points in the final 31 seconds against Central Michigan, including a layup inside and four free throws. He had just four points in the first half against the Chippewas.
Buffalo is expected to get an NCAA tournament invite even if it loses to Bowling Green on Saturday. It means that teams on the bubble and waiting for the committee to put them in the tournament will be rooting for Buffalo so that the MAC qualifies just one team.
Sophomore guard Justin Turner leads the Falcons with 18.4 points per game, scoring 14 against Northern Illinois on Friday.
Bowling Green lost four of their last five games in the conference schedule, but still did enough to earn the third seed and have now won back-to-back games.
"You have the regular season and now postseason and everybody (starts) 0-0," said Bowling Green senior forward Demajeo Wiggins, who hauls in more than 10 rebounds a game. "Coach (Michael Huger) always says you just have to be better than somebody for one night, one game. That's what we are able to do no matter what happened to end the regular season."
--Field Level Media