Redemption can be sweet, no matter how long it takes. A year after losing in the finals, the #4 Buffalo Bulls beat the #2 Ohio Bobcats, 77-61 in the 2019 MAC Women’s Basketball Tournament final at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Saturday. The Bulls also claim the MAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Buffalo looked like the veteran and experienced team it is throughout this tournament. The Bulls won the tournament in 2016, lost in the semifinals in 2017, before losing in last year’s finals. They picked the right time to play their best basketball of the season.
This year’s MAC Tournament MVP was Buffalo’s Cierra Dillard, and this was her fourth deep tournament run and second in Cleveland. She spent her first two years competing in the Atlantic 10 Tournament at UMass before transferring into Buffalo. That experience served her well, as she finished with 22 points, four rebounds and five assists against Ohio.
But she had some help. Teammates and fellow All-Tournament Team members, Summer Hemphill and Hanna Hall had big games as well. Hemphill finished will a double-double with 16 points and 21 rebounds. Hall had 17 points on 5 of 9 shooting from three-point, as well as seven assists.
The Bulls shot 42% from the field for the game and even better from three-point at 45%. The Bulls also dominated the boards in the game, 46-29.
The Bulls built a lead as many as 17 points in the first half and led 43-28 at the half. In the second half, they pushed the lead to as many as 19 points before Ohio cut it down to eight points with 5:46 to play in the game. But Dillard and her teammates had way too much composure to let the lead slip away, dominating play over the last five minutes to claim the victory.
Ohio was led in scoring by All-Tournament Team selection, Cece Hooks’ game high 24 points. Dominique Doseck (14) and Amani Burke (11) also scored in double figures for the Bobcats.
Buffalo improves to 23-9 on the year and will wait to find out its NCAA Tournament opponent. The Bobcats are now 27-5 and will await to hear where it will play this postseason. The MAC could well be at least a two-bid league this year. Ohio, Central Michigan and Miami all have legitimate cases for at-large bid consideration to the NCAA tournament. We’ll find out on Selection Monday.