The 2014 version of #MACMadness continues on Thursday afternoon with two third round games that feature fascinating inter-division matchups.
First on the docket is the Ball State Cardinals against the Buffalo Bulls at noon EST. The winner of that game will advance to face the top-seeded Bowling Green Falcons at noon on Friday in the semifinals. Thirty minutes after the conclusion of the first game, approximately 2:30 p.m. EST, the Toledo Rockets will square off with the Akron Zips. The victor advances to the semifinals to face the Central Michigan Chippewas, who are seeded 2nd, on Friday afternoon.
2014 MAC Women's Basketball Tournament
#4 Buffalo Bulls vs. #5 Ball State Cardinals (12:00 p.m. EST)
The Bulls never trailed the Cardinals in their lone 2014 regular season meeting, but they came excruciatingly close to blowing a huge second half lead. Kristen Sharkey and Mackenzie Loesing combined for 30 first half points, as Buffalo built a 13-point halftime lead. They increased that lead to 19 points with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game. Ball State then exploded for a 25-8 run that boiled Buffalo's lead down to two points. Fortunately for the Bulls, they managed to sink 10 of 14 free throws, and that was enough to save a four-point win.
Both teams featured some really outstanding individual performances during the game. Sharkey finished with 36 points, and she was a fantastic 11-of-17 from the floor and 13-of-14 from the free throw line. Loesing complemented Sharkey's effort with 21 points, although she needed 25 shots to get there. Christa Baccas led the team with 11 rebounds, and Sharkey completed a double-double with 10 of her own. Margeaux Gupilan dished out 11 assists and earned three steals.
For Ball State, Nathalie Fontaine fell just shy of Sharkey's numbers but was really no less impressive. She was 10-of-18 from the floor and 10-of-12 from the free throw line, as she ultimately accumulated 30 points and eight rebounds. Brandy Woody posted 10 points, four rebounds and five assists.
It will be very interesting to see how the teams prepared for this game and how they will handle those individuals. Can Ball State contain Sharkey and Loesing? Can Buffalo limit Fontaine's effectiveness? Will Buffalo once again have an edge on the boards (they won rebounds 42-35 in the first game)?
This will be Buffalo's first game in five days, following their win to close the regular season against Kent State. Ball State has won two games over the previous three days. Last night, the Cardinals made 23 of 26 free throws and out-rebounded Northern Illinois 39-24, as they beat the Huskies 61-47. Ball State has allowed a combined 85 points in their first two tournament games, and Fontaine had a great game against NIU with 17 points and eight rebounds.
#3 Akron Zips vs. #6 Toledo Rockets (approx. 2:30 p.m. EST)
The Zips received 40 points from their first team All-MAC duo of Rachel Tecca and Hanna Luburgh, as they cruised past the Rockets by 20 points in their only regular season meeting.
Akron ran over Toledo like a freight train with a 25-5 start within the first nine minutes of the game, and they never looked back. The Rockets were not able to get within 13 points after that, and in the 2nd half, they trailed by as much as 29 and by no fewer than 17. Akron out-shot Toledo 53 to 29 percent during that first half, and while things evened up somewhat in the second half, the Rockets were far too buried to recover.
Much of the reason for the poor shooting was the Rockets' performance from beyond the arc. They jacked up 26 attempts at 3-pointers and only made three. In the first half, they were just 1-of-12. Ana Capotosto made only two of her nine attempts, and Elena De Alfredo missed all seven of hers.
Perhaps the one bright spot for Toledo was their activity on the boards. They out-rebounded Akron 47-45, but the difference on offense was 19-9. This aggressiveness also helped them get to the line for 21 free throw attempts, while Akron had only 16. If they can bring the same level of play on the inside today and can make more threes, the game should be much different than the regular season meeting.
Individually, Luburgh finished with 23 points, six rebounds and three assists. Tecca had fewer points (17) but more rebounds (11) and assists (6). Akron also received big contributions off the bench from Carly Young (15 points, 7 rebounds) and Anita Brown (10 points, 7 rebounds). Four Toledo players scored in double figures, and each had at least six rebounds. Andola Dortch scored only eight, but she passed out nine assists.
This will be Akron's first game since the loss in their regular season finale to Bowling Green, which cost them a school-record 13-game winning streak. Toledo has won two in a row and three of their last four. Yesterday afternoon, the Rockets got a career-best effort from Capotosto in an 11-point win over Western Michigan. Capotosto drilled five 3-pointers and scored a career-best 21 points, and she pulled down seven rebounds.
Here's the official 2014 MAC Women's Basketball Tournament bracket:
|1st||5||Ball State 73
||vs.||12||Kent State 38
|1st||8||Eastern Michigan 76
||vs.||9||Northern Illinois 81
|1st||7||Western Michigan 82
|2nd||5||Ball State 61
||vs.||9||Northern Illinois 47
||vs.||7||Western Michigan 61
||vs.||4 or 5||Buffalo or Ball State
||vs.||3 or 6||Akron or Toledo
|Champ.||SF #1 winner||vs.||SF #2 winner|