A celebration for the Ohio Bobcats will have to come some other day. Inthe Mid-American Conference Tournament Championship midday Saturday in Cleveland, the Bobcats fell to the Buffalo Bulls 77-61.
Ohio trailed by as many as 18 points in the game, but mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter. Amid the late excitement, the Bulls stayed calm and smart, which means the program will be traveling to its third NCAA appearance since 2016.
The Bulls took a 43-28 lead over the Bobcats at halftime, with Ohio limited by early foul trouble. The ’Cats trailed just 23-17 when junior Amani Burke got called for her third foul with 8:45 left in the second quarter. Burke didn’t play the rest of the half while the Bulls went on a 13-3 run.
Buffalo kept its cushion and kept the Bobcats in check. Ohio, who lost to Buffalo by 30 points in the regular season, suffered similar issues on Saturday. The Bobcats went for the threes early and didn’t attack the basket. When the shots didn’t fall, Ohio fell behind.
On threes, Ohio made just 9-28 (32.1 percent) while Buffalo was more successful, making 13-29 (44.8 percent).
The Bobcats also gave the Bulls too many chances with the ball. Led by Summer Hemphill’s 21 rebounds, Buffalo out-rebounded the ’Cats 46-29, including a 16-5 Buffalo advantage on offensive boards. Buffalo actually had more turnovers (11 to Ohio’s nine), though the first didn’t come until just 2:19 was left in the first half.
Hemphill’s MAC Tournament record 21 rebounds complemented 16 points, four assists, two steals and a block. Cierra Dillard, the second-highest scorer in the nation, led the Bulls with 22 points. Hanna Hall shot 5-9 on threes to add 17 points with a game-high seven assists.
Ohio typically featured a short rotation of players, but the Bobcats got no points from the bench. Cece Hooks led the way with 24 points and four assists. Dominique Doseck was 5 for 10 beyond the arc for 15 points in her final MAC game. Burke added 11 points.
Buffalo (23-9) made the NCAA Sweet 16 last year and will be a squad to pay attention to again this year. The Bulls enter the NCAA Tournament as winners of six of their last seven games. Buffalo with the automatic bid likely will be joined by at least one, maybe two, more MAC teams.
Ohio (27-5) is in limbo regarding the postseason. An automatic bid would be preferred, but the Bobcats will be at the mercy of the selection committee. Ohio’s season could be enough to warrant an at-large bid, but if the Bobcats are left out, the WNIT probably will call.