CLEVELAND, OH – There won't be a third straight Mid-American Conference title for the University at Buffalo men's basketball team as the third-seeded Bulls were upset by Kent State, the six seed, 68-65, in a very physical affair in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday night.
"It's a tough loss," head coach Nate Oats said. "I thought our kids played hard. We won it here two years in a row, they fully expected to win this thing again and it's hard to lose one like that."
In a game that featured 56 combined fouls, both teams struggled to get into an offensive rhythm. The Bulls especially struggled in the first half and trailed, 39-32, at the break. UB's struggles continued to start the second half as Kent State opened the second stanza on an 8-2 scoring run to take a 47-34 lead with 16:47 left.
But what the Bulls lacked at the offensive end, they made up for at the defensive end. UB held Kent State to just two field goals in nearly a 14-minute stretch in the second half to climb back in to the game. However, when Buffalo's leading scorer Blake Hamilton fouled out with less than five minutes left and the Bulls trailing by eight, things looked grim.
But the gritty Bulls refused to quit and cut the Kent State advantage to 65-62 with 2:38 remaining. After some Kent State struggles at the free throw line, Ikenna Smart made a pair of free throws to cut the Golden Flashes' advantage to 66-65 with 42 ticks left.
The Bulls played solid defense on the ensuing Kent State possession and, after a missed shot, it looked as if C.J. Massinburg saved the rebound off a Kent State player which would have given UB possession and a chance to win the game. However, the officials awarded the ball to Kent State and the Bulls were forced to foul with just 12 seconds left. Jimmy Hall made both free throws and Massinburg's off-balanced three at the horn was off the mark.
Hamilton led the Bulls with 17 points, but was limited to just 28 minutes due to foul trouble. The senior guard did score his 1,000th career point in the game.
"It's tough with the career Blake had, for him to foul out on some of the fouls that he had in that game," Oats said. "You know, it's hard to talk to a senior about his career end like that with not even being really able to play being hamstrung with fouls the whole game."
Massinburg had 15 points, making 11-of-13 free throw attempts, and added a career-high 12 rebounds. Nick Perkins added 11 points and eight rebounds.
Both teams shot just 18-of-51 from the field. The Bulls held the Flashes to just 6-of-25 shooting in the second half alone. The difference was the free throw shooting. Kent State went to the free throw line 41 times and converted 29. UB was 24-of-34 from the charity stripe.
The Bulls finished the season with a 17-15 record, marking the 11th time in the past 14 years Buffalo was won 17 or more games.