CLEVELAND, Ohio – Guard Cierra Dillard and forward Summer Hemphill form a terrific duo for Buffalo, but they can’t be expected to win big games without help. On Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena, the long-distance support came from guard Hanna Hall.
Hall scored 17 on 6-of-10 shooting, including 5-of-9 from 3-point range, as the No. 4-seeded Bulls defeated the No. 2 Ohio Bobcats, 77-61, in the Mid-American Conference 2019 women’s championship game. Buffalo earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulls are 2-1 in the past four MAC Tournament championship games. They beat Central Michigan in 2016 and lost to Central Michigan in 2018.
Dillard scored a team-high 22 and Hemphill amassed 16 points and 21 rebounds.
Hall, who finished with seven assists and two turnovers in 40 minutes, entered averaging 6.1 points and 2.8 assists. She made numerous wise decisions against Ohio’s relentless pressure.
“From the starters to the bench to the coaches, every single one of us was locked in,” said Hall, a sophomore from Canada. “I give glory to God and my teammates. I was confident taking the shots. The confidence comes from working hard in the gym.”
Buffalo (23-9) built a 53-32 cushion with 6:55 remaining in the third quarter. Ohio (27-5) refused to fold, thanks largely to the baseline-to-baseline work of guard Cece Hooks. Ohio trailed, 59-46, after three quarters.
Hooks helped Ohio pull within 65-57 with 5:46 remaining in the fourth quarter. Ohio had several opportunities to get closer, only to be denied. With four minutes left, Hall stole the ball and fed Hemphill for a layup and 67-57 lead. Hemphill and Dillard made sure the advantage did not dip into single-digits the rest of the way.
“We stayed poised,” Dillard said. “Throughout the game, we paid attention to detail. We talked. We had each other’s backs.”
Dillard, a senior from Rochester, New York, earned tournament MVP. She was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Hemphill, Hall, Hooks and Central Michigan’s Reyna Frost.
Hemphill, a junior from Buffalo, helped the Bulls control the glass, 46-29. She had five of her team’s 16 offensive rebounds; the Bulls held a 24-9 advantage in second-chance points.
Hooks was outstanding en route to a game-high 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting. She had five rebounds and four assists and five fouls in 35 high-energy minutes.
Buffalo led, 43-28, at halftime. Hall scored 14 on 5-of-8 shooting and Hemphill had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Bulls out-rebounded Ohio, 25-18, and generated 14 second-chance points. Their bench outscored Ohio’s, 11-0, thanks mostly to Courtney Wilkins’ nine.
Ohio pulled within 23-20 on two Dominique Doseck 3-pointers. Buffalo responded with a 13-0 run, which was fueled by Hall’s sharpshooting.
Buffalo led, 23-14, after one quarter. Dillard and Hall each was 2-of-3 from 3-point range and scored eight. On several occasions, the Bulls burned the Bobcats by scoring with less than five seconds on the shot clock.
Buffalo used an 11-0 run to build a 17-10 lead. Ohio scored the next four, then Dillard and Hall each made 3-pointers.