All Buffalo coach Nate Oats had to do was pull out the tape from last year’s game at Syracuse. His rising Bulls did the rest.
CJ Massinburg scored 25 points, Jeremy Harris added 18, and No. 14 Buffalo rallied past the Orange 71-59 on Tuesday night to remain unbeaten.
It was the first win over the Orange since January 1963 for Buffalo (11-0), one of only nine undefeated teams of the 353 that play in Division I.
“It’s a huge win for our program,” Oats said. “I told our guys that if we really want to be ranked this high and we want to show everybody we’re worthy of this ranking, let’s play everybody and play our A-game.”
A year ago, Buffalo faded at the end against Syracuse, unable to overcome the Orange’s home-court advantage. Syracuse went on a 14-6 run in the final three minutes and won 81-74.
What a difference 364 days made. The Bulls held the cold-shooting Orange to 23 points in the second half on Tuesday, snaring the lead for the first time on a 3 by Massinburg from the left corner with just under nine minutes left.
“I think our guys were ready and hungry and wanted to avenge last year’s loss,” Oats said. “We definitely talked about that. We talked about it in video, we talked about in pregame and then I brought it up when there was about 2:34 left on the clock when we had a timeout. I pointed out that last year we were up with three to go, we’ve got to grind some stops and take this thing.”
The reigning Mid-American Conference champion Bulls, eyeing a return to the NCAA Tournament, entered the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history in early November after an overtime victory at then-No. 13 West Virginia. It’s Buffalo’s best start since the 1930-31 season, when the Bulls finished 15-0.
Syracuse (7-4) suffered a crushing 68-62 home loss to Old Dominion on Saturday that knocked the Orange out of the national rankings for the second time this season. That and Syracuse’s two earlier setbacks were to unranked teams. The loss to ODU also snapped a five-game winning streak and left the Orange somewhat stunned, and they folded down the stretch against the Bulls, hitting just 8 of 29 shots (27.6 percent) in the decisive second half.
“Either we’re really bad offensively, which we are right now, and we have to get better or we’ll continue to struggle,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We cannot win games playing offensively like we are now.
“I’ve always tried to say this. This is what you are. Our record is what you are. It’s not what people thought we could be or hoped we could be or think we could be. This is what we are.”
Elijah Hughes had 16 points and Frank Howard scored 13 to lead Syracuse. Leading scorer Tyus Battle finished with 11.
“I just think they out-toughed us. That’s it,” said Battle, who had taken only one shot in the second half before he hit a 3 to tie the game at 53-all with 8:07 to go.
Buffalo trailed the entire game until rallying late, repeatedly closing the gap to a single possession but unable to gain the lead for good until a putback by Davonta Jordan with 7:09 left. His 3 with just under four minutes left gave the Bulls a 62-57 edge and Massinburg’s fourth 3 of the game boosted the lead to 10 with 2:09 to go.
The Bulls take pride in their hustle and it showed. They out-rebounded Syracuse 48-35, 18-10 on the offensive glass, and outscored them 12-5 on second-chance points. They also had nine steals, three more than the Orange.
“Nothing against Syracuse, but we know what we pride ourselves on. We’re a blue-collar team,” Massinburg said. “We want to be the hardest-working team every night. Even when we play a team that’s more talented than us and has a bigger name than us, we want to make sure we play harder because that’s one thing I learned about basketball — that no matter who you are or how good you are, if you don’t play hard and if you don’t bring it every night you can get beat.
“This is really big for the city of Buffalo,” Massinburg added. “When we get back, we’re going to definitely feel the love.”
Buffalo: The Bulls had been tested two other times this season: the win at West Virginia and a tight victory over San Francisco in Northern Ireland just over two weeks ago. Beating the Orange on Jim Boeheim Court can only boost their confidence more.
Syracuse: The Orange have been erratic all season. They were solid in a 72-62 victory three weeks ago at Ohio State, which was ranked 16th at the time, and rallied to beat Georgetown by a point 10 days ago. But they lost to UConn and Oregon at Madison Square Garden in mid-November. Before this season, Syracuse had suffered three nonconference losses just six times since the early 1990s, and it didn’t go to the NCAA Tournament in five of those years.
Buffalo travels to play No. 20 Marquette on Friday night.
Syracuse continues a seven-game homestand when it hosts Arkansas State on Saturday afternoon.
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