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Alumni Arena, Buffalo, New York
No. 21 Buffalo takes on Akron with eye on postseason
No. 21 Buffalo is determined to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament this season. Collecting 16 regular-season victories in the Mid-American Conference could help the Bulls achieve that goal.
Buffalo (24-3, 12-2 MAC) leads the East Division with four games remaining before the conference tournament. The Bulls will host Akron (15-12, 7-7) on Tuesday.
Buffalo collected its first NCAA Tournament victory last season as a No. 13 seed, knocking off No. 4 seed Arizona before falling in the Round of 32 to fifth-seeded Kentucky.
According to current projections, the Bulls are in the vicinity of a No. 7 seed. That would mean a second-round matchup against a No. 2 seed, barring an upset in the first round.
Coach Nate Oats is eager to improve that seeding. Buffalo is making a push to move up, having won its past five games; finishing strong in the regular season could improve that postseason projection and make for an easier path to the NCAA's second weekend.
"We need to send a statement," Oats said in the Buffalo News.
"We're trying to make it past the point what we did last year. We won a game last year and we're going to do better than we did last year, and that means getting into the second weekend of the tournament. ...
"We'd better hurry it up and start playing a lot better, and get ourselves out of that 7 seed or be playing great enough that if they decide to give us a 7 seed, we've got to be playing well enough to (beat) a team like that in the second round."
The Bulls have turned things up a notch in the past three games. They won on the road against West Division leader Toledo, blew out Ohio by 47 points and manhandled Kent State by 23 points.
Against the Golden Flashes, Buffalo reeled off 10 unanswered points in the final 80 seconds of the first half to take an eight-point lead. It controlled the game the rest of the way, forcing Kent State into a season-high 24 turnovers.
"When you make mistakes, they capitalize," Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. "When they smell blood, they're like sharks in the water, and that's to me, their greatest attribute as a team."
Senior guard Nick Perkins scored a career-high 27 points to lead the Bulls. He made two 3-pointers during the late first-half outburst.
"When I hit that first one, I definitely thought we were going to get on a roll, and it worked going into the half," Perkins told the News.
Buffalo played at Akron on Feb. 12, when the Zips hung tough before the Bulls emerged with a 76-70 victory. Senior guard CJ Massinburg led Buffalo with 21 points, and Dontay Caruthers added 15 off the bench.
Sophomore guard Loren Christian Jackson paced Akron with 20 points, but the Zips' reserves went scoreless.
That game began a three-game losing streak for the Zips. They ended the slide with a 70-58 win over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.
Junior guard Tyler Cheese led Akron with a career-high 27 points, and junior forward Daniel Utomi tossed in 19. Utomi made five 3-pointers after going 3 of 16 beyond the arc in the previous two games.
"We know he's capable of doing that," coach John Groce said in the Akron Beacon Journal. "I know his teammates still believe in him. I know I do."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 25, 2019