UB Bulls lose to No. 1 Ohio in MAC Tournament semifinals

Bulls shoot 47 percent from three in the loss

img_3902

CLEVELAND, OHIO – After struggling from deep range all season, it was the three-point ball that helped end the women’s basketball team’s season.

With 2:51 left in the game, Ohio guard Mariah Byard hit her second 3-pointer in a little over 2 minutes, each time extending the Ohio lead to two possessions. The 3-pointers set up Buffalo intentional fouls in the final minute of play, where the Bobcats hit 6 of 7 free-throws to seal the game.

The No. 4 Bulls (19-12, 12-8 MAC) were defeated by No. 1 Ohio (26-4, 17-2 MAC) 63-55 in the semi-finals of the MAC Tournament on Friday at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The loss eliminates Buffalo from the tournament, whereas the Bobcats will advance to the championship game on Saturday.

Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack, nonetheless, is proud of the young squad's season.

“This is a special group here,” Legette-Jack said. “I’m so honored to be their coach, so humbled by their intelligence. I was so excited about the things I learned on a daily basis.”

The Bulls trailed by as many as seven points in the second half, but Buffalo rallied from 10:35-3:03 to bring the deficit within one. But Buffalo couldn’t take a lead over the final three minutes of the game, as it did not make a field goal in the final three minutes.

Buffalo, which ranked dead last in 3-point shooting percentage (.254) in the conference during the regular season, hit 9 of 19 3-pointers in the game -- the teams’ highest total all season. Sophomore guard Joanna Smith led all scorers with four 3-pointers. Smith finished with 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting.

Buffalo contained the Bobcats to eight 3-pointers on 25 attempts. Ohio is No. 1 in the country in 3-point attempts and fourth in the nation in made 3-pointers.

Despite the team’s success from beyond the arc, its problem lied inside the perimeter. Buffalo shot 35 percent from the field. The team connected on 20 shots, 11 of which were inside the 3-point line.

“[Joanna] did a tremendous job in taking some open shots and Mackenzie did the same thing,” Legette-Jack said. “But the post play was an interesting situation that I’d rather not talk about.”

The Bulls took seven free throw attempts, connecting on six. It was well below their season average of 21.2 per game. Buffalo did not attempt its first free throw until there was 6:54 left in the game. It was the first time all season the Bulls and their opponent failed to reach the charity stripe for an entire half.

One of the Bulls main goals entering the game was to contain Ohio guard Kiyanna Black, who ranked seventh in the MAC with 15.9 points per game during the season. Black shot 2 of 11 from the floor in the first half, but rebounded to shoot 4 of 5 in the second. All of her field goals in the second half were scored in the paint.

Legette-Jack lauded Black’s efforts in Thursday’s game and the entire season.

“I think she’s the best player in the conference,” Legette-Jack said. “I thought she really stepped up and did some tremendous things all season long. Today was no different. We paid a lot more attention to her, but she was still able to get 13 points … She’s a special player.”

Junior guard Mackenzie Loesing finished with a team-high 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting. Loesing said during the post-game press conference that she re-injured her surgically-repaired ankle during the season and was playing most of the season with partially torn ligaments.

“We all face our own adversities,” an emotional Loesing said. “It’s been hard, but there’s nothing more I want to do than fight for this team. We all fight our own battles. I’m not the only one who has been dealing with stuff this season. I’m just blessed to be able to make it this far.”

Buffalo outrebounded Ohio 41-37, 30 of which came on the defensive glass. Sophomore forward Alexus Malone finished with eight points and a team-leading nine rebounds.

Senior forward Christa Baccas finished with four points and eight rebounds. She also added a game-high five blocks in her final game as a Bull. Senior forward Kristen Sharkey added 12 points and seven rebounds in what was her last game in a Bulls uniform.

“We had a great experience,” Sharkey said. “We pushed and stayed together as a team and kept fighting through everything we’ve gone through.”

Ohio will face No. 6 Eastern Michigan on Friday at 1 p.m. for the MAC Championship at the Quicken Loans Arena. The Bulls can possibly play postseason basketball, but it must receive an invitation, which would most likely come from the College Basketball Invitational or the College Insider Tournament.

Jordan Grossman is the senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com