Published March 13, 2016
They’re headed to the Dance.
Both the UB Bulls men and women’s basketball teams are going to the NCAA Tournament after winning their respective Mid American Conference tournaments in dramatic fashion on Saturday in Cleveland.
The women earned their first-ever bid to the tournament by beating Central Michigan, 73-71, in overtime on a bank shot at the buzzer by sophomore guard Stephanie Reid.
The men are going back to the tournament after winning their second consecutive MAC championship by defeating Akron, 64-61, on a three-pointer by junior Blake Hamilton with two second left.
The Bulls are the first team in 14 years to repeat as MAC men’s basketball champions.
They have been seeded 14th in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament, and will play third-seeded Miami on Thursday in Providence.
The UB women will learn their NCAA tournament opponent tomorrow night. They are hosting a NCAA selection show watch party at 7 p.m. at the Santora’s on Transit Road.
The Bulls earned their ticket to the NCAA women's tournament on a running bank shot in the lane by Reid.
“Coach Jack said to me, ‘three seconds is a long time; that’s two dribbles and a shot,’” Reid said. “And I’m pretty sure I took exactly two dribbles and a shot. Just do what coach says, you know. Got to stick to the game plan.”
Reid finished with 10 points, a career-high 12 assists and a pair of steals en route to earning MAC Tournament MVP honors. Joanna Smith led all scorers with 23 points, including five three-pointers, while playing 44 minutes in the game.
The Bulls jumped on the Chippewas early, taking a 21-11 lead and led by six after one quarter of play. Central Michigan battled back to take a five-point lead in the second quarter. However, a three-pointer by Courtney Wilkins just before the halftime buzzer gave the Bulls a 37-36 lead at the break.
It was a back-and-forth affair the rest of the way with neither team leading by more than five points. Just when it looked like Central Michigan was beginning to pull away -- leading 60-55 with 6:52 left -- Smith knocked down a three-pointer to cut the Chippewas’ lead to two. She followed with a steal and a layup and a jump shot to quickly give the Bulls a two-point advantage.
Mirte Scheper saved one of the best games of her career for the biggest stage, as the freshman forward finished with seven points and six rebounds. Her rebound and put-back gave the Bulls the lead, 64-60, with 2:42 remaining.
Central Michigan held the Bulls scoreless the rest of the way and, after tying the game at 64, had a chance to win the game in regulation. But, as they had done the entire game, the Bulls played solid defense and the Chippewas’ game-winning attempt came up short.
Many players stepped up for the Bulls in the MAC Tournament, and in overtime it was Katherine Ups’ turn. The sophomore guard knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to give UB a 70-67 lead with 2:44 left in overtime.
A Cassie Oursler free throw gave the Bulls a 71-69 lead with eight seconds left. CMU’s Presley Hudson was fouled on the ensuing possession and calmly made both free throws to tie the game with 3.4 left on the clock. That set the stage for Reid’s heroics.
Following a timeout, the ball was inbounded at midcourt to Reid. She dribbled around an Oursler screen and put up the one-handed runner that bank off the glass and through the net.
Nine different Bulls scored in the game. UB got excellent play out of its post players. Besides Scheper, Oursler had seven points and eight rebounds, Mariah Suchan had six points and nine rebounds and Brittany Morrison finished with five points and five rebounds. Defensively, they did an excellent job guarding CMU’s Tinara Moore, one of the best forwards in the MAC, limiting her to just four points after halftime.
“You’ve got to give these young people a chance,” head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “My mom said to me one day, ‘sometimes you’ve got to push them and let them fly, sometimes you’ve got to allow them to become, and they can become people with wings.’
“I trust my players; I trust all of them,” Legette-Jack said. “This is a different way to coach. A lot of people believe in five or six kids. I believe in every kid I bring in here.”
Seeded eighth in the MAC tournament, UB was the lowest seed in MAC history to win the women’s championship.
For the UB men, Saturday’s buzzer-beating heroics came from Hamilton, who drained a three-pointer with two seconds left to secure the win over Akron.
The Bulls were a resilient bunch during the entire MAC Tournament, but faced a pro-Akron crowd on Saturday in Quicken Loans Arena. The Zips contingent erupted when Akron hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Zips the lead, 61-58, with 2:13 left. However, Hamilton responded with a guarded three in the corner to tie the game at 61 with 1:39 left.
The Bulls played great defense all night, culminating on the Zips’ next possession as they looked to take the lead. However, Nick Perkins forced Akron’s Isaiah Johnson into an off-balanced layup attempt and Hamilton snatched the rebound with 45 ticks left.
An Akron foul gave the ball to the Bulls with 23 seconds left and the shot clock dark. Lamonte Bearden took the inbounds pass and looked to take the last shot. However, when he was shut down in the lane he kicked the ball up top to Perkins. Instead of forcing the shot, Perkins wisely passed it to Hamilton, who was wide open for the game winner.
Fittingly, Hamilton stole the inbounds pass to seal the victory for the Bulls.
“An exciting weekend for us,” said head coach Nate Oats. “Nobody was predicting this back in October, November. So I can’t say enough about the character of these guys. We had returners, new guys. Everybody stepped up. We had the changeover in the program. The guys that stayed with us believed in us, what we could do.
“You know, I'm just really proud of those three, Lamonte, Rodell (Wigginton) and Jarryn (Skeete),” Oats said. “I thought they did a really good job just being leaders in the locker room all year. And then these new guys really believed in us, came here to win to get to the NCAA tournament. What they were able to pull off in year one, I can’t say enough about them.”
Freshman CJ Massinburg led all scorers with 18 points, including four three-pointers. Hamilton added 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Bearden had 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
The Bulls dominated the glass, outrebounding the Zips, 43-31. UB had 13 offensive rebounds that really seemed to frustrate the Zips.
Junior wing Willie Conner was named the MAC Tournament MVP and joined Massinburg and Bearden on the All-Tournament team.