UB men's and women's basketball bring home the hardware with MAC Championship, NCAA Tournament appearance celebration
Both teams claim conference titles
Buffalo basketball tripled its amount of Mid-American Conference Championships in the span of a few hours.
On the same court and same day, March 12, the women’s team claimed its first-ever MAC title and NCAA Tournament bid off a game-winning buzzer-beater from sophomore guard Stephanie Reid, the men’s team claimed its second-straight MAC Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance off an equally impressive game-winning shot from junior wing Blake Hamilton with just a second left on the clock.
In short, it was the most historic day in the history of UB Athletics.
On Monday, students, media, alumni and fans gathered in the Student Union for a rally to celebrate both teams’ conference tournament championships and NCAA Tournament appearances. Players, coaches and President Satish Tripathi were present, while members of the administration, including Athletic Director Allen Greene, were not present due to a planned vacation.
The two 2016 MAC Championship trophies, one for the women and one for the men, were present on tables near the stage. UB mascot Victor E. Bull and Casey “Cowbell” were present to pump up the crowd. It’s the first time since the 2001-02 season that the MAC Championship trophies for both men and women reside on one campus. The last school to do it was Kent State.
The women earned a No. 8 seed in the MAC Tournament but pulled off a series of upsets, defeating No. 1 Ohio, No. 5 Akron and No. 2 Central Michigan in order en route to the program’s first-ever MAC Championship. The Bulls were also the highest seed to ever win the MAC Tournament.
Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack took the stage with her team and reminisced about the day she was appointed in 2012 and the vision she had for this team.
“It like our dreams coming to fruition,” Legette-Jack said. “This is something we saw four years ago when we took over this opportunity from Satish. We saw this day coming and we’re already seeing what the future holds. This is just the beginning ... this is just the beginning.”
The large TV screen in the Student Union showed highlights of the Bulls’ tournament run, from important plays by freshman guard Brittany Morrison and sophomore forward Mariah Suchan, to Reid’s game-winning, buzzer-beating shot in the Championship game.
With just one senior graduating, the Bulls are returning a roster full of experienced players. After seeing her head coach express the desire to get back to the NCAA Women’s Tournament, Reid said the moment “still hasn’t sunk in yet,” even after the team had a moment to reflect after the team’s 88-69 loss to Ohio State in the first round.
Always looking toward next season, junior guard forward Joanna Smith reiterated Legette-Jack’s sentiment. She said she “can’t wait” for next season.
“We have a few good recruits coming in from Ohio and North Carolina,” Smith said. “Next year is going to be great year for us … way better than this year. I’m excited.”
The men earned a No. 3 seed and first round bye in the MAC Tournament and defeated No. 11 Miami Ohio, No. 2 Ohio and No. 1 Akron to claim their second-consecutive MAC Championship. Buffalo is the first team to win back-to-back tournaments since Kent State in 2001 and 2002.
Buffalo, a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament, fell to Miami in the first round, 79-72. There are expectations Buffalo will repeat as champions next season and possibly even win a game at the big dance, which head coach Nate Oats acknowledged.
“We’re expected to do the same thing next year, we’re expecting to win a couple games,” Oats said. “That’s the expectation we have for our team.”
Expectations were far different for the Bulls heading into the season. After the departure of head coach Bobby Hurley and star point guard Shannon Evans to Arizona State, as well as the dismissal of former MAC Player of the Year Justin Moss for a summer dorm theft, Buffalo was expected to suffer a transition year under first-year head coach Oats.
But Buffalo defied expectations with its conference title run and return to the NCAA Tournament, with the help of some key junior college transfers and freshmen.
Buffalo returns all but two players, including one of those key JUCO transfers in Hamilton. The junior wing led the team in rebounding with 7.1 per game and finished second on the Bulls in points per game with 13.1, trailing only sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden. He said that this team has a chance to be special next season.
“The sky’s the limit,” Hamilton said. “We had a ton of moving pieces and some growing pains earlier in the season, but we put together a great season. We got a lot of people coming and if we do what we’re supposed to do, I think the sky’s the limit for next season.”
As the Bulls celebrated their accolades for this past season, the talk surrounded the event was about next season. Both teams bring back the majority of their rosters.
Legette-Jack didn’t mince words, telling the crowd she wanted to create a dynasty. Only, Legette-Jack wasn’t talking about just her team, but creating a dynasty for the entire sports program at UB.
“We want to build a dynasty,” Legette-Jack said at the top of her lungs. “Our women’s basketball team, our softball team, our track team, our volleyball team, our football team, our men’s basketball team. We’re going to make sure that you get your money’s worth every day. You pay a fee to make athletics work and we are working it for you. We became champions, all thanks to you.”