CLEVELAND — ‘March Madness’ began in this Ohio venue, the Q, as the University of Buffalo took the men’s Mid-American Conference title over Bowling Green State, 87-73. The Bulls (31-3) were placed in the tough West Regional as the sixth seed. If they win their first game they will face the winner of the Texas Tech / Northern Kentucky game.
It looked like it would be a romp as the Bulls jumped out to a 28-13 early lead. The Falcons fought back and closed the half on a strong run to cut the margin to 39-38. Jeremy Harris, who scored a game-high 31 points, was named the MAC Tournament MVP for Buffalo.
Coach Nate Oates said after the BGSU game, “First time I looked at the stats. I didn’t know who had what. I know Jeremy (Harris) hit a few buckets. They played us tough and we’ve been taking everybody’s best shot. I like the way our guys started the game out. I thought when our shots were dropping, I thought our defensive intensity lacked a little bit there, let them back in the game. We weren’t getting stops, weren’t getting out in transition as much and weren’t scoring as much. They made that game tough all the way up to, I don’t know when we opened it up, but I’m guessing about the eight-minute mark of the game. It was pretty tight all the way up through maybe even later than that, six minutes, something in there.”
Coach Oates received his second straight MAC Coach-of-the-Year honors.
He further added, “Then we overcame the fact that we got out-rebounded by 14. It’s obviously not a way to win games, but we shot the ball a lot better in the second half. I thought our assisted turnover ratio was really good. Our turnovers were down, we only had nine. And Jeremy just got cooking. We’ve been calling him Mr. March kind of for a reason.”
Buffalo has depth as senior C.J. Massinburg was named the MAC Player of the Year and is the team’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game. Senior forward Nick Perkins won his third straight MAC Sixth Man-of-the-Year award and also made first-team all-conference for the second year in a row.
Big West Tourney at the Honda Center
Big West Tournament champion UC Irvine earned the No. 13 seed in the South Region and drew Kansas State in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Anteaters will tip against the fourth-seeded Wildcats on Friday, March 22 at 11:00 a.m. (TBS) in San Jose, Calif. at SAP Center. UCI (30-5), the Big West’s first 30-game winner since national runner-up UNLV (34-1) in 1990-91, enters the postseason with a school record 16 game winning streak.
UCI won its second conference tournament championship and NCAA Tournament berth on Saturday at Honda Center with a 92-64 victory over Cal State Fullerton. The 28 point margin of victory is the largest in Big West Tournament championship game history, surpassing the previous mark of 25 by UNLV versus San Jose State (94-69) in 1987.
Mountain West Finishes Big in Las Vegas
Nevada (29-4) and Utah State (28-6) will represent the Mountain West in the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship as announced with Sunday’s bracket selections.
This year represents the 17th season that the Conference has had at least one at-large selection to the NCAA tournament. Utah State punched its ticket to the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 2011, winning the 2019 Air Force Reserve Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship over San Diego State. 2019 Mountain West Player of the Year and Tournament MVP Sam Merrill led the Aggies with 24 points in the championship game, while 2019 Mountain West Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Neemias Queta added 17 points and eight rebounds. The Aggies surged ahead with a 13-0 run to start the second half, and held the Aztecs to just 25 points in the second half.
Nevada earned an at-large berth into the NCAA Championships and will play Florida (19-15) on Thursday at the 14,039 seat Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. The game will tip at 3:50 p.m. PT on TNT. The Wolf Pack is the seventh seed in the West Regional and the Gators earned the 10th seed. The winner advances to play either No. 2 Michigan or No. 15 Montana on Saturday.
Nevada is making its ninth trip to the NCAA Tournament and third in a row under head coach Eric Musselman.