The Buffalo Bulls are going dancing for the first time in their history thanks to an 89-84 victory over the Central Michigan Chippewas in the 2015 Mid-American Conference Tournament championship game in Cleveland, Ohio on Saturday night. The victory was a measure of redemption for Bulls fans who saw their team lose in overtime to Ohio University in the 2005 final in Cleveland.
The Bulls earned the MAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will wait to see who and where they'll play when the brackets are announced tomorrow. This was the first time a MAC final did not have a team from Ohio in it since 1995 when Ball State defeated Eastern Michigan. It was also the first MAC championship game held in Cleveland that did not have an Ohio team participating. The announced attendance at Quicken Loans Arena was 5,266.
The Chippewas came into the game as the number one seed and had beaten the Bulls twice in the regular season. But the old adage that it's hard to beat a team three times was in play here because of how evenly the teams were matched. Plus, the Bulls were riding a six game win streak to close the season and clinched the MAC east division title on the last day of the regular season.
The Bulls used a second half charge to pull away from the Chippewas in a hard-fought, nationally televised game. It was a well-played first half that had the look and feel of a conference championship. Both teams took turns with small working leads but nobody was ever in control. Buffalo held a 42-39 lead at the half.
Buffalo had a seven players score in the first half led by Xavier Ford with 11. MAC Player-of-the-year Justin Moss was quiet again with just three points amid rumors he was battling either and injured ankle or wrist depending on who you talked to.
Chris Fowler was the guy making things go for the Chippewas in the first half with 13 points. John Simons also chipped in with nine after connecting on his first two three-point shots. The Chips did have some early foul trouble when Rayshwan Simmons picked up his third foul before the intermission.
The second half was close for the first twelve minutes as both team traded punches with no knockdowns. Then the Bulls seemed to find an extra gear. Buffalo got a big 3-pointer from Evans at the 7:58 minute mark to give the Bulls a 66-60 lead. Moss pushed that lead to 73-66 with jumper a few minutes later. Moss again began to assert himself and another bucket from him gave Buffalo a 77-68 lead with 4:15 to play.
The Chippewas would not go away easily and battled back with the chance to cut the lead to a one possession game several times but could not do so. Jarryn Skeete hit a big 3-pointer with 2:17 left to give the Bulls their biggest lead of the game at 83-72. For all practical purposes, that was the ballgame.
The Bulls got great balanced scoring with six players in double figures. MAC Tournament MVP Ford and Shannon Evans both had 18 points for Buffalo. Lamonte Bearden (13), Skeete (12), Moss (10) and Will Regan (10) were the other Bulls in double figures. The Bulls shot 49 percent (30-61) from the field and 46 percent (10-22) from 3-point. Buffalo got two more 3-pointers than Central Michigan in this game, after the Chippewas came in as the MAC's best 3-point shooting team. Moss led the Bulls in rebounding with 11, as Buffalo held a 37-31 edge on the boards.
Fowler led Central Michigan with 27 points, but they were hard earned. He played all 40 minutes in the game and it seemed as if none of his shots were uncontested. Simons and Braylon Rayson each had 13 points and Luke Meyer added 10 for Central Michigan.
Central Michigan will undoubtedly be playing postseason basketball, most likely in the NIT. They'll learn their fate tomorrow as well.