CMU men's basketball snaps losing streak, beats Buffalo in overtime

Junior guard Jesse Zarzuela prepares to shoot free throws after a technical was called during a game against Buffalo Saturday, Jan. 14 in McGuirk Arena. Zarzuela went 10-12 on the free-throw line.

The crowd roared to its feet as CMU junior guard Jesse Zarzuela, known for his ability to create quick offense, hit a floater along the baseline and pushed his team’s lead to seven, with time rapidly waning.

Thanks to his ability to remain calm in high-leverage situations, Zarzuela confidently made shot after shot, and led the charge as Central Michigan men’s basketball (7-10, 2-2) cruised to an 87-78 victory in overtime against the University of Buffalo (8-9, 2-2). 

“Just being present, being in the moment,” Zarzuela said of what it takes to show up in these situations. “That’s the main thing. Something I’m still getting better at, I’ll say that. Today, it was just a big win.”

This game wasn’t just an important Mid-American Conference win for the Chippewas against an opponent above them in the conference standings. The win also marked CMU’s first defeat of Buffalo since 2015 and snapped a 12-game losing streak against the Bulls.

“It’s just a product of the staff,” Zarzuela said. “(They’ve done) a good job recruiting guys. Our record isn’t reflecting the (job) those guys are doing, but there’s a lot of season left. So (this win) is just a product of them demanding excellence out of us.”

Zarzuela scored a career-high of 29 points coming off the bench in the win. He also chipped in four rebounds and four assists. It was his first game back in the lineup after a brief two-game stint sidelined by injury.

In the early portion of the first half, the two teams had kept the score neck and neck, with neither squad gaining much of an advantage over the other. With just under 12 minutes remaining in the opening half, the score was all knotted up at 12. However, the Chippewas managed to outscore the Bulls 26-16 as they headed to halftime with a 40-30 lead. In that span, Zarzuela scored 10 points and led the offensive attack that allowed them to go on such a run.

While CMU went into the locker room with the momentum in its favor, it didn’t carry over to start the second half. Buffalo ripped off 13 unanswered points to begin the second half, with freshman guard Reggie Bass ending the run with a free throw, marking the Chippewas’ first score of the second half nearly seven minutes in.

“We talk about (basketball) being a game of runs,” head coach Tony Barbee said. “We made our run in the first half up 10 at the half. We should have been up significantly more, but we blew a lot of opportunities in transition. We missed some open shots, and it should have been a little more than 10. But it is what it is. I told the guys at halftime, ‘Look, they're a good team, they're a good program. They have a tradition. They've got a culture. They're not going to stop fighting.”

However, despite ending the run, Buffalo held a slight advantage for most of the remaining time in the second half. In fact, CMU would not hold another second-half lead from that point until 1:28 remained in regulation.

The Chippewas trailed 70-68 with 18 seconds remaining due to UB’s Curtis Jones hitting a pair of free throws. But CMU turned to Zarzuela to make a play and either send the game into overtime or win it with a three-pointer. Instead of forcing a heave to try to will his team to victory, Zarzuela calmly dished a pass around a defender to junior forward Carrington McCaskill deep under the basket. An easy layup as time expired sent the game into overtime.

Bass scored 21 of his own while dishing out six assists and grabbing six rebounds. Taylor filled up the stat sheet as well with 14 points, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals. While sophomore center Nicolas Pavrette shared the team lead in rebounding with Bass at six, and Bass led the team with his assist tally.

CMU is back at home on Tuesday as they face off against Akron (11-6, 3-1). Tipoff is schedule for 7 p.m.