BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo had a week off to brood over its first loss of the season.
“You get home and I feel like Markus Howard ruined our Christmas,” Buffalo’s CJ Massinburg said in reference to the Marquette guard who scored 45 points in the Golden Eagles’ 103-85 win over the Bulls on Dec. 21. “Family members: ‘Hey, it’s good to see you. How you let him light you up like that?’ That’s the next thing their saying.”
The 21st-ranked Bulls bounced back to close out non-conference play with an 87-72 victory over Canisius on Saturday night.
Massinburg led the way with 22 points and steadied Buffalo after a sluggish start. Nick Perkins added 18 points and nine rebounds and Jeremy Harris had 17 points with nine rebounds to help the Bulls improve to 12-1 for the first time since the 1962-63 season.
“I’m obviously happy with the 12-1 record,” Buffalo coach Nate Oats said. “I think we’ve set ourselves up to get an at-large bid if we take care of what we are supposed to in conference. Hopefully we don’t need it.”
After beating Syracuse in front of 18,620 fans at the Carrier Dome and playing Marquette before a crowd of 17,567 at Fiserv Forum, the Bulls had to adjust a different atmosphere as the first ranked opponent to ever play at Canisius’ sold-out 2,196-seat Koessler Center.
“It was a little bit like conference play,” Oats said. “The intensity, being an in-city rivalry and all that, it felt like more than a regular non-conference game.”
The Bulls shot a season-high 44 percent from 3-point range (11 of 25) and 50 percent from the field. Massinburg hit 4 of 7 from beyond the arc and Harris was 3 for 5.
Defensively, Buffalo held Canisius (3-8) to 39 percent shooting. The Golden Griffins were 8 of 35 (23 percent) from deep after hitting 4 of 7 in the early going.
The Golden Griffins shot out to an early 23-13 lead before the Bulls took control with a 21-2 run. Buffalo used a 13-2 stretch to pull away early in the second half after leading 41-35 at the break.
Takal Molson led Canisius with 15 points. Malik Johnson and Isaiah Reese each had 13.
Buffalo: The Bulls head into Mid-American Conference play with a single loss for the first time in 13 seasons. With that loss coming at No. 18 Marquette and wins at then-ranked West Virginia and Syracuse, the Bulls believe they have bolstered NCAA Tournament resume after receiving a No. 13 seed as MAC champions last yer.
Canisius: The Golden Griffins shooting woes contributed to them losing the cross-town matchup for the fourth time in five years. They have shot below 40 percent in six of their eight losses this season. Canisius overcame a 4-7 start last year to finish 15-3 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Six miles separate the Buffalo and Canisius campuses, and the annual meeting has been magnified in recent years by the fact that Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon was fired by Buffalo in 2013 after leading the Bulls for 14 seasons.
“I kept telling the guys, literally, this is their Super Bowl,” Oats said. “They’d obviously rather make the NCAA Tournament than beat us, but I think they’d rather have this win than any other game on their schedule.”
Oats made a similar comment after the Golden Griffins beat the Bulls in overtime at Buffalo’s downtown arena in 2017 during Witherspoon’s first season at Canisius.
Witherspoon bristled at the suggestion two years ago and again on Saturday.
“It’s a non-conference game. That’s all it is,” Witherspoon said. “I’ve been on both sides of it.”
Buffalo should remain in the Top 25 for the eighth week in a row. That would be the longest stretch for a MAC team since Ohio was ranked for eight weeks during the 1969-70 season.
Buffalo begins its MAC schedule Friday at Eastern Michigan.