In the end, it was the most conventional of baskets in a dramatic spot.
Noah McCarty’s textbook layup with two seconds remaining gave Northern Illinois a 77-75 win over No. 14 Buffalo. Behold not only the basket, but the find by Trendon Hankerson and achingly-close tip from Bulls’ forward Nick Perkins.
The final sequence staved off a frantic Bulls rally, which saw them trailing by six with 52 seconds left. CJ Massinburg (23 points) would then go on a personal 6-0 run to tie the game at 75-75 with just seconds remaining.
For those who weren't watching, the final 20 seconds in the No. 14 Buffalo-NIU game were WILD.— Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) January 23, 2019
First, C.J. Massinburg hit this insanely deep three to tie the game. pic.twitter.com/kOWep1cGJQ
It’s a massive win for NIU, which had dropped back-to-back games after a 3-0 start to MAC play. It was also a historic night, as the No. 14 Bulls were the highest ranked team to play in DeKalb, Ill. since eight-ranked DePaul made the trip in 1981, and the first ranked team period since No. 18 Temple visited in 2009.
NIU led by as many as 10 points early in the second half, but Buffalo retook the lead on a Jeremy Harris jumper with 11:02 remaining. It was back-and-forth from there on, with Eugene German (20 points) making a slew of plays in the final ten minutes. David Thorpe led the Huskies with 23 points, while Harris (15 points, 8 rebounds) and Perkins (12 points, 9 rebounds) had big games in support of Massinburg.
For Buffalo, it might be natural for mid-major anxiety to start creeping in when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. However, the Bulls were pegged as a four-seed coming into the game by the Bracket Matrix, and Bart Torvik’s resume comparison has them in comfortable company.
That should be enough for Buffalo fans to rest easy, for now. The upset underlines what many have known to this point: the MAC is no cakewalk this season.
The Bulls will rebound with a tricky trip to Kent State, followed by similarly thorny games against Ball State (home) and Bowling Green (away). The Huskies, meanwhile, will try to build on their historic win with a weekend trip to Akron.