21st-ranked Bulls defeat Akron for 25th-straight win at home

UB overcomes a bad first half, top the Zips to keep their home win-streak intact

Jon Simon
February 26, 2019 - 10:43 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

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The 21st-ranked University at Buffalo men’s basketball team (25-3, 13-2) capped off a three-game homestand with a tough 77-64 win over Akron (15-13, 7-8) on Tuesday night at Alumni Arena. With the victory, UB has now won 25-straight games at home dating back to last season, which is the second-longest streak in the country.

Unlike last week’s blowouts of Ohio and Kent State, Tuesday night’s game was a dogfight most of the way for the Bulls. The Zips, who sit in fourth-place in the Mid-American Conference East Division, gave UB a strong effort and even led 36-35 at halftime.

“That was a gritty win,” Bulls head coach Nate Oats said during his post-game press conference. “It didn’t go the way that we wanted it to for the first 20 to 30 minutes, but were almost into March, and we have to figure out ways to get gritty wins now. It’d be nice to just blow everybody out, but sometimes shots don’t drop and free throws aren’t going in and whatever else. Sometimes you find a way to win ugly and tonight we found a way to get an ugly one.”

Both teams started the game pretty slow offensively; UB shot 4-for-13 from the field and 2-for-8 from three in the first five minutes.

Shots began to fall more frequently with about 6:30 to go in the first half. A three from Jayvon Graves would start a three-minute stretch where the Bulls and Zips traded the lead six times, with neither team going up by more than two points during that span.

Nick Perkins and CJ Massinburg carried the load on offense for UB in the first half and throughout most of the game. Perkins led the Bulls with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the first half, while Massinburg was right behind him with 11 points and a team-high six boards.

“Akron tonight was tough, they came out and played us hard,” Perkins said following the win. “That was probably as close as it’s got all year with us trying to protect home court. Like coach said, we got a gritty win and that’s what it’s all about.”

Perkins finished the night with a game-high 25 points and five rebounds. Massinburg put up quite an impressive stat line finishing with 23 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers. Following Tuesday’s win, Massinburg finds himself in the top-20 list for career points in MAC history.

The scoring would come to a screeching halt with 3:00 to go in the half and the score tied at 32. UB would put up just three points in the final three minutes of the half and Akron’s Tyler Cheese, who finished with a team-high 20 points, would hit a three with two seconds left to give the Zips a 36-35 lead at the midway point.

Things didn’t get easier for the Bulls when the second half began. While UB never trailed by more than five points in the first 12 minutes of the half, Akron kept the Bulls in check.

UB held a 43-42 lead at the 16:36 mark, but that went away just 16-seconds later following a basket from Akron’s Jimond Ivey. For the first 10-12 minutes of the second half, it seemed like every made basket by UB was answered by Akron, and the Zips put a stop to any run the Bulls would start to go on.

The turning point came when Graves blocked a shot in the corner and scored at the other end to tie the game 48-48 with 14:01 to go. Akron called a timeout following the play and the crowd at Alumni Arena had some life once again.

“One play that sticks out, really big to me was when Jayvon blocked that three in the corner and then scored in transition,” Oats said. “We didn’t have a transition point in the first half. We weren’t playing hard enough on defense and we weren’t running hard enough on offense. We were playing at a comfortable 80 percent in the first half. When Jayvon made that play it was like, ‘alright, we’re playing hard now.’ That was a tough block. He came from a long ways away to get that. And then after he gets the block, he got the lay-up at the other end.”

Akron went on another run out of the break and would go up by as much as five over the following minutes. However, the Bulls would tie the game again at 55-55 with 8:45 to play after Massinburg grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a cutting Davonta Jordan with a pass that led to a lay-up.

“That’s part of being a good teammate,” Massinburg said about the play. “It seems like the team and even the coaching staff gets most excited when you do the little things like diving on the floor or come up with a tough rebound. Honestly that brings the most joy. Tonight felt special because I felt like I was able to make some hard, tough plays for my team.”

After the UB defense forced the third shot-clock violation of the night on Akron, the Bulls took their first lead in almost 10 minutes on a basket by Perkins. The senior forward drew a foul in the process and made his free throw to give UB a 61-59 lead with 7:02 to play.

Less than two minutes later, Jayvon Graves got the crowd roaring after he threw down a dunk on a fast break that started with a steal by Massinburg. Following Graves’ dunk, the Bulls led 63-59 and never trailed the rest of the way. Graves finished the night with 14 points, five assists and seven rebounds, putting a bow on a strong three-game stretch for the sophomore guard.

“He’s won the blue collar award three out of the last four games now,” Oats mentioned when talking about Graves. “When he had those three offensive rebounds before the first media timeout, we knew he was focused and doing what he needs to do. He’s such a good athlete and has great physical tools, that when he’s mentally locked in like he’s been the last few weeks now…he gives us some help scoring when other guys are struggling, which we needed tonight. If we didn’t have him playing as well as he did, we don’t get the win tonight. I think he’s been huge for us these last few weeks.”

The 77-64 final score would end up being the Bulls’ largest lead of the night. UB would close the game on a strong run, out-scoring Akron 14-2 over the final four minutes.

The Bulls defense was the backbone of the late surge, holding Akron to just two points in the final five minutes. The biggest adjustment the Bulls made in the second half was defending Akron’s three-point shooting. The Zips shot 55-percent (6-for-11) from behind the arc in the first half but went just 2-for-14 (14%) in the second frame.

UB will be on the road for their next two contests. The Bulls' next game will be at Miami (OH) on Saturday, March 1st at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network. You can also listen to the full game, along with pre-game and post-game coverage on ESPN 1520.

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