When former Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley left the Bulls, fans feared the program would lose some of their dominance in the Mid-American Conference. Now head coach Nate Oats would disagree with that fear.
For the third time in four years, the Buffalo Bulls have punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament by winning the MAC Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
This time it would come at the hands of the Toledo Rockets by a final of 76-66. Unfortunately for the Rockets, they were without MAC player of the year Tre’Shaun Fletcher.
The story of the game was the high pick and roll between MAC All-Third Team guard Wes Clark and MAC Sixth Man of the Year Nick Perkins. Oates went to this set time and time again, typically against guard Jaelan Sanford and center Luke Knapke. Sanford struggled all night to fight through the large frame of Perkins, and with Knapke sitting back instead of hedging, Clark poured in open jumpers all game to the tune of 26 points.
Perkins, after going just 1-8 in the first half, found a rhythm against a tired Knapke in the second half. “I just slowed down, got to my spot, and finished”, said Perkins. “That really was the big difference”. The big man would finish with 16 huge points.
Toledo would end the game with 3 starters in double digit scoring, led by Jaelan Sanford with 19. However, they were just never able to get over the hump in the second half. “The difference was on us… a couple bad turnovers back to back and missed wide open shots”, said the junior guard. “It was just on us”.
Despite having the NCAA Tournament now staring him in the face, Coach Oats pointed out how excited he was for next season. “Well, if you go to some NCAA tournaments, it is easy to recruit the best players, and you can keep this momentum rolling”, said the second year Buffalo coach. “And the recruiting class we’ve got coming in next year…we’ve got something building”.
Buffalo now awaits Selection Sunday to see where they are seeded and who they will be playing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.