Bobby Hurley is half-Irish, but given how crazy the last couple days have been, he had no idea that Tuesday was St. Patrick’s Day.
“My wife let me know when I was walking out the door that she’ll have the corned beef done later, so I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Hurley said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “But I’ll take that. It’s just been a crazy couple of days with everything that we’ve accomplished.”
Buffalo (23-9, 12-6) beat Central Michigan, 89-85, in the Mid-American Championship this past Saturday to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Hurley, who won two national championships at Duke in the early 1990s, is ecstatic that his team will get a taste of March Madness.
“I’m so happy and proud of my kids that they’ll have a chance to do it on Friday,” Hurley said.
Friday is when No. 12 Buffalo plays No. 5 West Virginia (23-9, 11-7). Tip-off is slated for 2:10 p.m. ET.
If victorious, Buffalo would play the winner of No. 4 Maryland versus No. 13 Valparaiso.
It’s certainly been a quick rise for Hurley, who in two years has taken Buffalo from relative anonymity to the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls went 14-20 the year before Hurley became head coach. They’ve since gone 42-19.
“When I started here two years ago and I’m calling up recruits, a lot of the kids weren’t even sure that we were a Division I program,” Hurley said. “Now we’ve in two years taken it to this point where we’re getting this type of exposure. So it’s pretty good.”
Buffalo was at a crossroads in late-January and early February. The Bulls lost three consecutive games by a total of eight points – including a home loss at the buzzer to Central Michigan – to fall to 6-6 in conference play.
“We were at a critical point,” Hurley said. “Our season could have gone a couple different ways. We had some soul searching. We had some video sessions. We had a really brutal practice, and the guys turned it around.”
Buffalo has won eight straight games.
“They wanted to play in the tournament,” Hurley said. “So it’s been a great month. I haven’t lost a game in a month. We’re playing great defense. Our defense has been better. We have an exciting team. I think we’re in the top 20 in pace-of-play nationally and we’re No. 1 in our conference in scoring. So we’re a fun team. We’re a young team.”
Buffalo is led by junior forward Justin Moss, who averaged 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this season, and sophomore guard Shannon Evans, who averaged 15.4 points and 4.7 assists. Junior guard Jarryn Skeete added 9.5 points and 3.2 rebounds and shot 39.6 percent from three-point range, while freshman point guard Lamonte Bearden averaged 8.3 points and 4.3 assists.
“The future is pretty bright,” Hurley said. “Just with having that championship experience now for so many young players in the program.”
The locals have taken notice.
“It’s a great sports town,” Hurley said. “It’s historically been a football town and a hockey town, but we’re carving out our niche. I’ve been sensing it this year. Our crowds were building. People are enjoying watching our team play. I think we got a fun group of kids to watch.”
Hurley knew his team had a chance to be good in the second game of the season, when the Bulls led No. 1 Kentucky 38-33 at halftime in Rupp Arena in November. They were also up two points with 13 minutes to go before ultimately losing, 71-52.
“We played games like that where we got a sense of what we’re capable of doing,” Hurley said. “But you can’t keep taking a program to the well and never delivering. It was great to break through. I think people in the area now will support (us) a lot more that we got to the championship game, we were able to close it out and now we get a chance to play in the tournament.”