The relief was obvious. Not so much the relief of earning an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, but the relief of holding off Ohio in the final six minutes of a 77-61 win in the conference championship game Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena. The Bulls (23-9) won their first MAC Tournament championship since 2016 and their second in program history.
UB womens basketball wins MAC Tournament title, earns NCAA Tournament berth
Its just unbelievable to play, said UB guard Cierra Dillard, the tournaments most valuable player. It wasnt just Ohio, it wasnt just Central Michigan, it wasnt just Kent State. We just played through everything we went through this season. We went through a lot. And we stepped it up this weekend, to hold that trophy up.
The Bulls are heading back to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. @WGRZ @UBwomenshoops @CDillard24 pic.twitter.com/2UB2Un2Kwn
UB led by as many as 20 points in the first three quarters, but the Bobcats cut UBs advantage to 65-57 with 5:46 remaining on Dominique Dosecks 3-pointer, her fifth of the game.
But less than two minutes later, the Bulls converted off a turnover, and Summer Hemphills layup off a fastbreak opened UBs lead to 10 points.
MAC Tournament 2019: Buffalo beats stubborn Central Michigan, 85-81, reaches final
Dillard led the Bulls with 22 points and credited her teams ability to remain poised in a pressure situation as a reason for keeping the Bobcats (27-5) from getting any closer – a reflection, she said, of UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack.
The poise, and what we went through, said Dillard, who has scored in double figures in all 32 games this season. Central Michigan, they came back (in the semifinals). We had a lead and they took the lead by four. Weve got to stay poised and thats what coach prides herself on, keeping calm.
But as for the relief of earning an NCAA Tournament berth, when the Bulls were projected for so long as a low-seeded at-large team? The Bulls didnt see it that way, even as ESPN projected them as an 11 seed entering the MAC Tournament. They looked at the MAC championship and an NCAA berth as achieving the goals theyd set. The tournament pairings will be announced Monday.
We stayed locked in, all season, knowing what our goals were, said UB guard Hanna Hall, who scored 17 points and had seven assists. Our goals were to be better than last year and to keep getting better.
The Bulls set a single-game program record with 13 3-pointers, but Hemphill provided the most jaw-dropping performance. Hemphill, a junior forward, scored 16 points and 21 rebounds, and set a record for rebounds in a MAC Tournament game. Five players held the previous record of 19 rebounds in a tournament game.
A David DiLeo three point shot gave CMU a 24-21 lead with 8:26 in the first and the Chips held a lead all the way until the Montell McRea scored a tip in with 8:11 left in the second to give the Bulls a 69-68 lead.
“I was just going after every single board,” Hemphill, a Cardinal OHara graduate, said. “At this point in the season, its now or never, so I was willing to do any and everything to get every board that I needed to. Get around, box out and grab it.”
Hemphill acknowledged that she had no idea shed set a tournament record. For a matter of perspective, Hemphill grabbed eight fewer rebounds than Ohio did as a team (29).
After McRea gave the Bulls a lead, they and CMU wend back and fourth for the final eight minutes, with Central trying the game a hand full of times, but the Bulls would not fall behind again.
She does a great job of pursuing the basketball, Ohio coach Bob Boldon. They put her in positions where she can do so, obviously, playing that bottom part of the zone, and they do play a lot of zone against us. So shes around the basket a lot, and we missed enough shots for her to gather them, thats for sure.
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CJ Massinburgs timely free throws lift UB to MAC Tournament title game
Hemphill averages 10.6 rebounds per game and has a team-best 255 this season, despite missing the first nine games due to academic ineligibility.
Just because she was ineligible doesnt mean she isnt smart, and it doesnt mean she doesnt care, it doesnt mean shes not a good player, Legette-Jack said. It just means shes going to be on the shelf for nine games.
Every day she sat out, I saw her get more and more mature. And she got better as a person. She got better as a student and had a 3.3 (grade-point average) last semester. Things that happen, that you cant control, you learn lessons from it and you grow from that, and Summer Hemphill has grown from that.
Now, Hemphill and the Bulls have blossomed at the perfect time, as the Bulls prepare for their third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years.
We put ourselves in the right spot to get to the NCAAs but coming into this weekend, we had one goal, Dillard said. To walk out with a MAC championship and to walk out with (championship) hats on our heads.
Following a loss, Sue Guevara is always the type of coach who will give credit to the opposing team for how it played to land Central Michigan a defeat.