For pretty much any UB game this season, if I told you the winning team had a 32-12 advantage in the paint and the losers hit eight threes, you wouldn't be out of line for thinking that the Bulls had pulled out a win on the strength of their forwards.
In today's 63-55 semifinal loss to #1 seed Ohio, those numbers were flipping in a strange role reversal. UB shot as well from beyond the arc as they had all season, but could not operate their normal offense against the conference's top defense. UB sits at 19-12 on the year with hopes of a postseason tournament invitation.
Still, Buffalo did very nearly enough to win, as three players scored 12 or more and the Bulls stayed within a possession or two for nearly the entire second half. Unfortunately, every time UB seemed to grab some momentum, the Bobcats answered with a quick basket. It was truly uncanny.
The positive story of this game was the defense for UB, which held Ohio to poor outside shooting until two late threes from Mariah Byard, and kept the score close. Joanna Smith was the offensive sparkplug for the Bulls, hitting her first four threes to continually pull UB back up.
In the end, Buffalo just couldn't stop Byard or Kiyanna Black, who both finished with 13 points long enough. The first-half interior defense softened a bit and time and time again Ohio was able to convert from right inside the paint. At the very end, UB had clawed back from 52-47 to just a 55-53 deficit, but immediately gave up a lay-in and didn't score again until the game was out of reach.
The semifinal run is a game further than the Bulls advanced last year and just the second time UB has made it to the conference's final four in program history. The first team, in the old tournament format, was just 2-14 in the 2008-09 MAC regular season and got hot at the right time before falling to eventual champion Ball State.
I'm hopeful that this excellent showing from the Bulls isn't the end of the line, and that an invitation to a postseason tournament will come down the line. The coaching staff and other UB representatives sound confident that an invitation to something will come on Monday evening. One more win would give the Bulls their first 20-win season in the MAC era and the most since 1996-97.
For now, thank you seniors, congrats to the whole team on a fun season, and Go Bulls!