EditorsNote: Tweaks fourth graf, a few other minor changes
Senior guard CJ Massinburg scored 21 points, and junior guard Davonta Jordan added 16 points as No. 18 Buffalo survived a scare to defeat Central Michigan 85-81 on Friday and advance to the Mid-American Conference championship game at Cleveland.
The Bulls, the conference’s top-seeded team, will face third-seeded Bowling Green for the tournament championship on Saturday.
Senior forward Nick Perkins scored 14 points as the Bulls trailed the first 11:49 of the second half, finally taking the lead on a follow-up layup by Montell McRae for a 69-68 advantage.
After trading buckets, Buffalo (30-3) never trailed again, but its lead was never more than three points until Massinburg hit a free throw with 6.8 seconds remaining for the final advantage. Massinburg put the game away with six points in the final 31 seconds.
Junior forward Rob Montgomery scored 17 points to lead a balanced attack for the fifth-seeded Chippewas (23-11), who had all five starters score in double figures.
Senior guard Shawn Roundtree and senior guard Larry Austin Jr. had 16 points each, as Central Michigan missed out on its first appearance in the MAC title game since 2015, when the Chippewas were defeated by Buffalo.
Buffalo’s victory came the day after head coach Nate Oats agreed to a five-year contract extension to remain with the Bulls.
For the second consecutive day, Massinburg, the conference’s player of the year, struggled in the first half. He was 1 of 7 from the floor with four points in the opening 20 minutes Friday after scoring four points on 2-of-7 shooting in Thursday’s quarterfinal victory over Akron.
Massinburg’s 21 points against Central Michigan came on 5-of-17 shooting from the floor and 3-of-11 from 3-point range.
Central Michigan overcame a seven-point deficit in the first half to take a 42-37 lead into the break. Junior guard Kevin McKay led the Chippewas with 10 points in the first half and finished with 14.
It was Buffalo’s second victory over Central Michigan this season. On Feb. 9, the Chippewas also had a five-point lead at halftime, but the Bulls went on to a 90-76 victory.
—Field Level Media