UB women's basketball drops first-ever NCAA Tournament game to Ohio State 88-69

No. 3 Ohio State turn up offense, stifles No. 14 Buffalo in first round


COLUMBUS, OHIO - The Buffalo women basketball team's first-ever NCAA Women's Tournament game was supposed to be a matchup of offense vs. defense. Buffalo’s second-ranked scoring defense in the Mid-American Conference going up against Ohio State and its nationally third-ranked scoring offense.

But as the game drew out, the pivotal matchup proved to be the Bulls (19-14, 8-10 MAC) against Ohio State’s defense.

The No. 14 seed Bulls fell to No. 3 seed Ohio State (25-7, 15-3 Big Ten) 88-69 at the St. John Arena in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday. The Bulls got off to a good run led by junior center Cassie Oursler, but the Ohio State offense came in waves and proved to be too much for Buffalo’s defense.

Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack took Friday's loss as a learning experience for both her and the team.

“We’re going to learn from this,” Legette-Jack said. “You can’t stop a team like us. Our team is getting better and we’re going to work and remember this moment. It’s always tough to lose a game like this. We just had to get here, to see it, smell it, touch it and now that we got here, we going to be on our way.”

The Bulls got off to a strong start with a couple baskets inside and forcing Ohio State turnovers. A quick 9-4 lead by Buffalo was built off the same things that made them successful in the regular season: turnovers and easy shots in the interior. 

Then, Ohio State’s defense arrived.

The Buckeye defense came in two waves - a swarming full court defense that attempted to swallow up any Buffalo ball handler before they could reach half court and an omnipresent defender at the rim, making every shot for the Bulls that much more difficult.

The result didn’t show up in block shots, though the Buckeyes had six in the first half and 10 blocks for the game, but it became apparent as the game continued that Buffalo would struggle to put up shots at or near the rim.

“They weren’t shrinking,” said junior guard Joanna Smith said. “I thought we were pretty aggressive in getting to the lane and making plays at the end of the day. Our big men attacked them well and even in the second half, I thought the guards continued to get in the lane and make plays, but again, they didn’t shrink.”

And then, Ohio State’s third-ranked offense showed up.

After a pair of free-throws from Smith made the game 11-8 in favor of the Bulls, the Buckeyes called a timeout. The Buckeyes would then respond with a 18-1 run, turning a three-point deficit into a 12-point lead to end the quarter. Back-to-back three-pointers from Ohio State gave them the lead and the Buckeyes never looked back.

Legette-Jack tried some interesting coaching maneuvers in attempt to adjust to Ohio State’s defense, such as playing freshmen guard Gabi Bade as another ball-handler and freshman center Mirte Scheper to combat the Buckeyes’ post players. The Bulls had some positive results from it, scoring 46 of their 69 points in the second half, but it was too late.

Smith led the Bulls with 23 points in a losing effort. Sophomore forward Courtney Wilkins finished with a career-high 14 points and six rebounds, including 4-of-7 from three-point range. Sophomore guard Stephanie Reid finished with two points, three rebounds and six assists.

Wilkins, still down about the result on the floor, looked to use the game as something to help her for next season.

“I think this going to help us get better,” Wilkins said. “They showed us that we had more room to grow. I think that we’re a young team and we have a ton of growing to do and I’m excited to see what we can do this upcoming offseason.”

For the Bulls, it was a disappointing end to a historic season. The Bulls, who suffered a five-game losing streak in the middle of the regular season, rebounded to claim the No. 8 seed in the MAC Tournament before making their miraculous run in Cleveland by defeating No. 1 Ohio, No. 5 Akron and No. 3 Central Michigan on their way to their first-ever MAC Tournament championship.

Legette-Jack, who called this season a “great one,” said that this season is a stepping stone for greater things to come. 

“We needed this,” Legette-Jack said. “I’m very excited about the way the team is working and what we’re doing. We’re going to build it now. We got a great group of kids committed and now that we put ourselves on a stage, others want to come and be a part of this program. We keep a Motel 6 mentality for people who want to join us - the light is always on.” 

Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @HaynesTheWriter.