CLEVELAND (AP) — C.J. Massinburg dropped a spinning layup and made four free throws in the final 32 seconds as No. 18 Buffalo moved into the Mid-American Conference Tournament title game with an 85-81 win over Central Michigan in the semifinals on Friday night.
The top-seeded Bulls (30-3), who trailed for much of the second half, will play the winner of the Northern Illinois-Bowling Green semifinal in Saturday's championship for the MAC's automatic NCAA bid.
Massinburg, the MAC Player of the Year and Buffalo's senior leader, scored 21 points and Davonta Jordan added 16 for the Bulls, the defending champions trying to win the school's fourth tourney in five years. Massinburg scored Buffalo's last nine points.
Rob Montgomery scored 17 points to lead the Chippewas (23-11), who gave the Bulls everything they could handle.
Buffalo led 79-78 when Massinburg worked his way inside for a bucket. Larry Austin answered with a tough layup for Central Michigan, but the Chippewas had to foul and Massinburg calmly dropped his free throws to help the Bulls escape one of their closest games this season.
A team to keep in mind while filling out March Madness brackets next week, Buffalo won its 11th straight and became just the second MAC school to win 30 games in a season. The other was Kent State in 2002, a team that made it all the way to the Elite Eight.
This Buffalo squad may challenge that Kent State group as the best in MAC history before March is over.
The Bulls, who beat Akron by 36 in the quarterfinals, had to fight for this one.
Making six of their first seven shots to open the second half, the Chippewas took a 61-53 lead and were outplaying the conference's best team in every phase. But Buffalo ratcheted up its defense and turned to Massinburg down the stretch to avoid the upset.
Austin and Shawn Roundtree scored 16 apiece for Central Michigan, which lost to Buffalo by 14 in the regular season.
The Chippewas seemed rattled at the outset, falling behind 14-7 and finding it tough to operate offensively against Buffalo's aggressive man-to-man defense. But it wasn't long before the shots started falling and Central Michigan's confidence started to grow.
Roundtree made a pair of 3-pointers as Central Michigan dropped four from behind the arc in a three-minute stretch to take a 27-23 lead.
Buffalo, meanwhile, went cold and finished the half making just 3 of 18 on 3s — which is not the Bulls' game.
Central Michigan: Played in its first MAC semifinal since 2015. The Chippewas won their last MAC tourney title in 2003, a squad led by center Chris Kaman. ... Lost to Buffalo in last year's quarterfinals.
Buffalo: Jeremy Harris, who scored 23 on Thursday, was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers. ... Will likely receive the highest NCAA Tournament seed in MAC history on Sunday. Ball State (1989), Eastern Michigan (1996) and Kent State (2008) were all No. 9 seeds. ... Spent the past 18 weeks ranked in the AP Top 25, the longest run for a MAC school. ...
Central Michigan: Season over.
Buffalo: Another title game. One of the Bulls' regular-season losses was to Bowling Green.
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