Dou-Bulls: Buffalo wins men’s and women’s MAC titles
CLEVELAND (AP) — Order another round and more chicken wings, Buffalo.
You’ve got two championships to celebrate.
Blake Hamilton made a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left as Buffalo defended its Mid-American Conference title — and pulled off a rare double for the school — with a 64-61 win over Akron in the title game on Saturday night.
Hamilton’s shot from the right wing sent the third-seeded Bulls (20-14) back to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. This was supposed to be a rebuilding season after Buffalo lost its coach and two of its top players. But the Bulls are stampeding into the NCAAs again and so are Buffalo’s women, who beat Central Michigan in overtime for their first MAC championship earlier.
“Man, it’s a great feeling,” Hamilton said. “Both teams going dancing, it’s going to be crazy in Buffalo.”
It’s a remarkable run for these Bulls, who won their first MAC championship last year under coach Bobby Hurley. The future looked bright, but took a major hit when Hurley accepted the job at Arizona State and took guard Shannon Evans with him. If that wasn’t tough enough, Justin Moss, the conference’s player of the year in 2015, was kicked out of school after he was involved in an on-campus robbery.
But first-year coach Nate Oats, an assistant under Hurley, got his players to believe and the Bulls put it together at the right time. They beat second-second-seeded Ohio and then took down the top-seeded Zips, who were appearing in their eighth final in 10 years.
“Nobody was predicting this back in October, November,” Oats said. “So I can’t say enough about the character of these guys. We had returners, new guys. We had the changeover in the program. What they were able to pull off in Year 1, I can’t say enough about them. It’s the best basketball we played all year. And we picked the right time to do it for sure.”
After Hamilton’s shot, the Zips (26-8) had one last chance, but a long inbounds pass was picked off by Hamilton, a junior college transfer. When the clock showed zeroes, the Bulls poured onto the floor and mobbed each other around the center circle. Moments later, they were joined by their schoolmates and fellow champions, who set the tone for the greatest day in Buffalo basketball history.
Two titles. Dou-Bulls.
Freshman CJ Massinburg scored 18 for Buffalo and Hamilton had 14 and 11 rebounds. Nick Perkins scored only 5, but he did a nice job defending Akron’s big center Isaiah Johnson in the second half, holding the beefy center to 2 points.
Antino Jackson had 14 points for Akron, which may have to sit home and watch the NCAA tourney for the third straight year.
Akron now must hope its resume is strong enough to get an at-large bid, but coach Keith Dambrot isn’t confident his team will be selected Sunday.
“We’ve got a 28 RPI,” he said. “The numbers don’t lie, do they? It’s all skewed for the big boys. So if Cincinnati or Tulsa or UConn had a 28 RPI, I think they would be in the tournament, but we’re not going to get in the tournament.”
Lamonte Bearden added 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists for Buffalo. Willie Conner scored just 7 in the finale, but was named the tournament’s MVP.
Johnson, perhaps worn out playing his third game in three days, wasn’t effective in the second half and the Zips, who relied on 3-pointers all season, went 13 of 33 behind the arc.
The Bulls lost by six to West Virginia in their NCAA opener last year, but Hamilton believes Buffalo is deeper this time around.
“Don’t let us all get going,” Hamilton warned. “We’re going to make some noise in the tournament if we all get going.”
Buffalo: Became the first school to win both the men’s and women’s titles in the same year since Kent State (2001-02). ... The eighth-seeded women’s team captured its title when Stephanie Reid banked in a runner at the buzzer in overtime to beat Central Michigan 73-71. Reid, who is from Melbourne, Australia, was named the tournament’s MVP. ... Former Connecticut star Donyell Marshall is in his first season on Buffalo’s coaching staff. Marshall played 18 seasons in the NBA, including three with Cleveland.
Akron: The Zips are one of just four teams to win at least 21 games in each of the past 11 seasons, joining Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas. ... Akron has won at least one MAC tournament game in each of its 12 years under Dambrot. ... The Zips went 15-0 at home this season, 3-1 at neutral sites. ... Dambrot’s teams made seven straight MAC finals from 2007-13.
Buffalo: On to the NCAA tourney.
Akron: Fingers crossed, the Zips hope not to settle for the NIT.