No. 18 Buffalo in peak form with Central Michigan up next
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The talk about No. 18 Buffalo might be about an offense that scores 85 points per game, but the Bulls showed off their in their opening game of the Mid-American Conference tournament -- and that just might be a theme moving forward.
Top-seeded Buffalo (29-3) will face fifth-seeded Central Michigan in the MAC semifinals on Friday at Cleveland after excelling in all facets of its game in Thursday's 82-46 quarterfinal victory over an overmatched Akron team.
The Bulls held Akron to 23.7-percent shooting from the field in the game and 16.7 percent in the first half when the Zips made just four field goals.
"Our offense is great and we do a lot of things, and we have really good players, but we spend much, much more time on the defensive end," Bulls head coach Nate Oats said on the ESPN broadcast after his team's victory Thursday. "Our goal was to be No. 1 in the league in both offense and defense. Our defense is a little bit underrated, but I don't care about what people talk about with us."
Oats also made news Thursday when he and Buffalo agreed to a six-year contract extension which will pay him a reported $837,000 per year.
Two more showings like the Bulls put on Thursday will increase the focus the team's defense gets heading into the NCAA Tournament next week.
The complete domination by the Bulls, who led by 20 points 12 minutes into the game, allowed senior guard C.J. Massinburg to take more of a back seat against Akron. The MAC Player of the Year scored just 10 points as four other Bulls players joined him in double-figure scoring.
Senior guard Jeremy Harris did the heavy lifting against Akron with 23 points -- 10 better than his season average. Sophomore forward Jayvon Graves had 13 points, also more than his season average.
Buffalo is just one victory away from matching the record for most victories in a season by a MAC team. Kent State reached the 30-victory mark in the 2001-02 season. The Bulls set the school record when they defeated Bowling Green in the regular-season finale on March 8.
After averaging 17.3 points per game (18.7 in MAC play), Massinburg's influence is sure to increase against a Central Michigan team that defeated Kent State 89-81 in another quarterfinal Thursday.
Larry Austin Jr. scored 23 points for the Chippewas (23-10), while Shawn Roundtree added 20. It was the fourth time in the past five games Roundtree scored 20 or more after not reaching that mark in any of the first eight games of the season.
Austin has also reached at least 20 points in four of the past five games. Austin and Roundtree entered with a combined average of 33.8 points per game.
The Chippewas have won seven of their last nine games and have confidence after winning 20 games in consecutive seasons.
"We've tried to approach each game that we've played, whether we're playing a non-Division I opponent or we're playing Western Michigan or we're playing Buffalo," Central Michigan head coach Keno Davis said. "We need to play the same way, with the same type of preparation, with the same type of intensity and part of that is to help you prepare for the postseason so that now when there's a little bit more riding on it, you're not doing anything different."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 14, 2019