Courtesy of UBBulls.com
CLEVELAND, OH – The University at Buffalo women’s basketball team beat Ohio, 77-61, to win the Mid-American Conference Championship on Saturday at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. The Bulls made a season-high 13 three-pointers to win their second MAC tournament title in school history.
“These young ladies kept believing and kept fighting,” head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “This is a culmination of a lot of things that went right and went wrong. With us staying together and us trying to figure it out. I’m so, so proud of these young woman.”
Cierra Dillard, who was named MAC Tournament MVP, finished with a team-high 22 points, including four three-pointers. Hanna Hall had 17 points, including a career-best five triples. Courtney Wilkins also shot it well from deep, finishing with 12 points on four three-pointers.
As well as the Bulls shot it from the perimeter, it was the inside play of Summer Hemphill that proved to be the difference. The junior forward scored 16 points and pulled down a MAC Tournament-record 21 rebounds. Buffalo was relentless on the glass, outrebounding Ohio, 46-29. UB grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and scored 24 second-chance points.
With all the attention on Dillard, Hall stepped up in a big way for the Bulls. The sophomore guard finished with 17 points and added seven assists. Hall set the tone early with 14 first-half points, including four three-pointers.
It was a back-and-forth affair to start as the two teams were knotted 10-10 at the first media timeout. The Bulls came out hot out of the media, breaking off a 7-0 run on three’s by Wilkins and Hall to take a 17-10 lead at the 2:42 mark. After a 4-0 Bobcats run, the Bulls got hot from deep with Dillard and hall draining back-to-back triples to put UB up 23-14 after one.
Ohio opened the second quarter with back-to-back threes to cut the lead to 23-20 but the Bulls responded in a big way ripping off a 15-3 run, including two more threes from Hall and another from Wilkins, to take a 38-23 lead at the media timeout. After a four minute Bulls scoring drought, Wilkins provided a spark yet again draining a triple at the buzzer to give Buffalo a 43-28 lead at the break. The Bulls shot 14-of-36 from the floor, including a blistering 9-of-17 (52.9%) from beyond the arc in the first half.
The Bulls picked up right where they left off as Dillard banked home a three on the first possession to kick start a 10-4 run, including another three by Hall and a four-point play for Dillard, to take a 53-32 lead at the 6:55 mark. Ohio answered with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 53-39 at the 5:08 mark but Onwuka responded with a bucket the next time up the floor as UB maintained a 55-39 lead at the media timeout and would withstand an Ohio run to maintain a 59-46 lead through three quarters of play.
Ohio came out strong to start the fourth quarter, putting together a 5-2 run to cut the lead to 61-51 at the 7:20 mark and would extend it to an 11-6 run to cut the lead to single digits, 65-57, at the media timeout. After trading baskets out of the media Dillard gave the Bulls a lift, converting the and-one to put the bulls up 72-59 with 2:48 to play. Wilkins capped it off with a three, 75-61 less than a minute to play and that would be all the Bulls would need to secure the championship.
Along with Dillard being named Tournament MVP, Hall and Hemphill were also named to the MAC All-Tournament team.
The win improved the Bulls to 23-9 on the season. They have qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season and third time in school history. They will now wait until Monday’s selection show to see where and when they will play in the NCAA Tournament.