Storrs, Conn. – Tenth-seeded Buffalo defeated seven-seed Rutgers, 82-71, in first-round Albany regional action Friday.
In a contest that saw 11 lead changes and seven ties, the Bulls finally wore down the scrappy Scarlet Knights in the final five minutes to prevail. The match up featured two athletic teams putting on a scoring clinic for most of a close game. Rutgers shot 45 percent and Buffalo, 48 percent through three quarters. The Scarlet Knights led by two at the half, 43-41, and by those same two points after three periods, 61-59. Until closing free throws opened the score, their largest lead was nine, and the largest Bulls lead was eight.
Buffalo made up for 23 turnovers by hitting 12-23 three’s, including one to end each of the first two quarters. The teams registered 39 combined points off the bench.
Rutgers stormed out of the locker room after the half, aggressively driving into the paint and drawing fouls, to take their largest lead of the contest. For those few minutes it looked as though Buffalo would be run out of the game. But the Bulls settled in, and an 8-0 run brought the score back to those two points.
It all fell apart for the Scarlet Knights in the final stanza. They shot just 33 percent, and began to force shots, missing most of them. After caring for the ball well – they had just five turnovers in the first half, while forcing 12 – they turned ball over seven times in the final period, including on four straight possessions.
Rutgers has for years featured the “55” defense, a full time full court press, and they did so for most of this game. After an early injury to guard Noga Pelc, however, they had just seven players available.
Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack felt that conditioning was a difference her team had expected.
“We felt like we’re better conditioned, honestly,” she said. “We said, when you break the press just run.”
“I don’t care if it’s an airball, just run. By the fourth quarter, they are better at fourth quarter, so if we run them in the first three quarters, by the fourth quarter they may not have legs. I think it held true.”
Rutgers Acting Head Coach Tim Eatman said his team tired and lost their poise late in the game.
“We had a freshman point guard on the court who we felt has grown up a lot this year, but we couldn’t get a sub for her,” he said. “ at the end of the day, we had seven healthy bodies and we are trying to fight and claw.”
“I think we made some mistakes because we wanted it so bad. That calmness we needed in the moment we needed, we didn’t have it. . . . At the end of the day, not having enough bodies to do what we do and to do it the way we want to do it, I think it just bit us in the butt a bit.”
The Bulls tied the score for the last time at 69 with 4:55 remaining, then opened up a five-point lead, while their opponents just two points in the last five minutes and none in the final 3:33. Buffalo made 6-8 free throws to lead to the final score.
Summer Hemphill scored 23 points on 9-14 shooting and grabbed seven boards for the winners. Cierra Dillard, the nation’s second-leading scorer, added 20 points and six assists. Stasha Carey led the Scarlet Knights with 20 points and 11 boards.
Buffalo will play UConn 7 p.m. Sunday in the NCAA Tournament’s second round.