KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — Buffalo was finally challenged in conference play — and coach Nate Oats wasn’t thrilled with how his team handled it.
Jeremy Harris had 22 points and 11 rebounds, and the 16th-ranked Bulls held off upset-minded Western Michigan 88-79 on Tuesday night, but this game was close throughout after Buffalo won its first three Mid-American Conference games by a combined 70 points.
“It’s as close as we’ve had in a while,” Oats said. “It’s not the worst thing to happen to us, but we’ve got to fix some stuff. We’re not headed the right direction.”
Nick Perkins added 14 points for the Bulls (16-1, 4-0), who trailed by 11 in the first half and struggled to shake free of WMU until the very end. The Bulls led by just four when star guard CJ Massinburg — who had been scoreless in the second half — connected from 3-point range to make it 86-79 with under 90 seconds remaining.
The Broncos (6-11, 0-4) went on a 15-0 run in the first half and led 33-22, but Buffalo rebounded quickly and led 43-39 at halftime.
“When they needed to, they got to the free throw line, or they got to layups,” WMU coach Steve Hawkins said. “Kudos to them. They did what they had to do.”
The Bulls led 69-68 when Perkins and Ronaldo Segu made consecutive 3-pointers. Buffalo pushed the lead to nine, but WMU answered with seven straight points to make it 77-75.
Josh Davis scored 24 points for WMU.
Buffalo: The Bulls were probably due for a closer game, especially on the road, and they committed 14 turnovers, their highest total in six games. But they did not look overly rattled toward the end in their first tight game in a while.
The Bulls are 16-1 for the first time in program history. Buffalo went 15-1 in a 16-game season in 1929-30, and went 15-0 in 1930-31. Tuesday’s game could be valuable if the Bulls take the right lessons from it.
“The MAC is a very competitive league. If we don’t play our best, any team in the MAC is going to take us down to the wire, if not beat us,” Massinburg said. “We’ve just got to bring it every night and never get complacent.”
WMU: The Broncos weren’t afraid to push the pace against Buffalo, and although they gave up the double-digit lead quickly in the first half, they hung tough throughout the second.
“This is a tough, hard-nosed group,” Hawkins said. “I told them afterward that I was really proud of their fight.”
Perkins hobbled off with a sprained left ankle in his team’s previous game, but he was back and looked no worse for wear. He played 31 minutes and had a big part in an important stretch for Buffalo.
After sinking a 3-pointer to push the lead to four, he blocked a shot, brought the ball up the court and assisted on Segu’s 3 that made it 75-68.
There was at least one celebrity fan in attendance for WMU’s home game against a ranked team. The matchup was intriguing enough for Darius Slay of the Detroit Lions, who came to watch. The star defensive back spent plenty of time posing for pictures with young fans.
A win is a win, but this one didn’t have much in the way of style points for Buffalo.
Buffalo: The Bulls return home to face Eastern Michigan on Friday night. Buffalo beat EMU 74-58 earlier this month.
WMU: The Broncos play at Bowling Green on Saturday night.