It wasn’t the prettiest win, but when it comes to postseason basketball, there is no need for style points.
The University at Buffalo women’s basketball team played a gritty, physical game and became aggressive in the low post to hold off Northern Illinois, 56-46, in front of 1,154 at Alumni Arena on Saturday afternoon.
The first-round win in the Mid-American Conference tournament sends the Bulls (11-19) to the main field in Cleveland where they will meet Miami (Ohio) in the second round at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in Quicken Loans Arena.
“I’d rather have an ugly win any day over a pretty loss,” Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “We kinda chopped away and we were a little nervous. .... But I looked in their eyes and they never said, ‘Well, we’re going to quit.’ They said we’re just going to figure this thing out. “
They figured it out with solid play in the low post, particularly from Kristen Sharkey and Christa Baccas.
Sharkey finished with 10 points and eight rebounds while Baccas pulled down 14 rebounds with six blocked shots and six steals, the majority of which came in the second half.
“We challenged Christa in the locker room at halftime,” Legette-Jack said. “Although Sharkey was playing well and we thought our guards were doing OK, if we were going to win, it had to be on her back. Her energy, her shot makes, her rebounding was going to create energy for us.”
“She put us on her shoulders and was ready to go,” Sharkey said. “We know that we have the ability to dominate other players down low and that was key to our success today. The guards did a great job of getting it inside. We were able to just get some shots up.”
The Bulls scored 26 points in the paint and hit 20 of 27 free-throw attempts.
While a number of those came in the final three minutes of the game, the majority of those trips were earned by players aggressively driving to the basket.
Shots were not falling for either side. The Bulls hit just 33.3 percent from the field (17 of 51) and were just 2 of 15 from three-point range.
Northern Illinois struggled as well, shooting just 28.3 percent (17 of 60) for the game. The Huskies (7-23) were led by Natecia Augusta’s 10 points.
“I feel like when you hold a team to 46 points, that’s tremendous,” Legette-Jack said. “[Northern Illinois is] a good shooting team. They like to slow the game down a lot and we tried to speed it up a little bit in the second half by pressing. We made them rush their shots.”
In a tight first half where neither team found much in the way of offensive flow, it was the Bulls who took a 22-20 lead at the break.
Northern Illinois opened the second half with a three-pointer from Jenna Thorp to take a 23-22 lead.
Two possessions later, the Bulls scored on a fastbreak layup from Karin Moss to regain the lead.
While the Huskies would tie the game at 25-25, the Bulls got a huge three-pointer from Moss as the shot clock expired for a 28-25 lead. Buffalo led the rest of the game.
Baccas, who was named All-MAC Honorable Mention earlier this week, also netted eight points.
Mackenzie Loesing led the Bulls with 13 points. She also was an All-MAC Honorable Mention and a member of the All-MAC Freshmen team.
The second round of the tournament features two games on Wednesday. The winner of the Buffalo-Miami game advances to play No. 3 seed Akron in the third round on Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Bulls split the regular season series with Miami (19-11), winning in Ohio, 78-70, on Jan. 31 then losing to the RedHawks, 69-56, on Feb. 20 in Alumni Arena.