After the final horn and the exchange of handshakes, Felisha Legette-Jack went to the public address system at Alumni Arena to address the crowd.
The first-year coach for the University at Buffalo women’s basketball team thanked the fans for their support and then apologized for her team’s effort.
Wednesday’s 77-60 loss to Akron in front of 1,156 wasn’t indicative of how far the Bulls have progressed. They finished at 8-8 in the Mid-American Conference, racking up their third most wins in a conference season.
But in the regular-season finale, Buffalo came up against an impressive Zips team that won the MAC East Division title – the first school not named Bowling Green to win the MAC East in eight years.
The Zips’ offense ranks ninth nationally, averaging 75.9 points a game. They needed only two minutes to make their mark on this game, converting four straight Buffalo turnovers into four straight buckets for an 8-0 lead.
“I don’t know what that was, but I certainly did not like what I saw,” Legette-Jack said. “We can’t play like that. We’ve come too far. I tell you, Akron is a very good team and they certainly caused some of the things that happened there. However we helped them beat us, and that’s something we’re never going to accept from this team. We’ve come too far to turn back now.”
The Bulls started the season going 2-11 in non-conference games. An easy start to the MAC schedule allowed them to gain some confidence. And the team kept battling. Kept playing hard. Kept learning the lessons Legette-Jack wanted them to learn. And suddenly, the team picked last in the MAC East took the No. 7 seed for the first round of the conference tournament and earned a home playoff game.
But before they get to the tournament, the Bulls need to shake off the blow they took in Wednesday’s loss. While they regrouped at times and had a few quality spurts, they never really were in the game against Akron.
A three-pointer from Hanna Luburgh gave the Zips (21-8, 12-4 MAC) a 27-8 lead with 9:37 left in the first half.
A pair of three-pointers from Cherridy Thornton helped set up a 6-0 spurt fueled by a traditional three-point play from Mackenzie Loesing and a three-pointer from Nicki Hopkins. That cut the lead to 11 points, 33-22, with about five minutes left in the half.
Three-pointers from Luburgh and Kacie Cassell gave Akron a final push before the half, taking a 45-24 lead at the break.
“We came out here and played a little scared in the first half,” said Loesing, who led UB with 17 points. “We let them get a big lead, dug ourselves a hole and it was hard to get out of.
“Our motto this whole year has been defense. You win games through defense and defense results in offense and today we weren’t tough defensively.”
Luburgh finished with 24 points for Akron while Sina King added 19 with 12 rebounds. Rachel Tecca scored 17, as the Zips shot 42.1 percent from the field.
Thornton finished with 15, and Kristen Sharkey netted 11 points for the Bulls.
The Bulls will host their first-round MAC playoff game at 2 p.m. Saturday in Alumni Arena. They will face Northern Illinois, a team they beat, 60-53, in Alumni Arena on Jan. 10 to open the conference season.
The winner of that game will advance to the second round on March 13 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.