CLEVELAND: The University of Akron women’s basketball team withstood a second-half onslaught from Buffalo before eking out an 83-79 victory with the help of a key four-point play in the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena.
Hanna Luburgh led five Zips in double-figure scoring with 22 points. She also had eight rebounds. Sina King added 19 points and seven rebounds and Rachel Tecca (Archbishop Hoban) scored 13 points and led the team with nine rebounds.
Point guard Kacie Cassell produced a double-double with 12 points and 12 assists and played 40 minutes with just one turnover.
Kristen Sharkey led the Bulls (12-20) with 26 points and seven rebounds. Margeaux Gupilan added 14 points and seven assists.
The Zips (22-8) took control early in the game and methodically built a 48-36 halftime lead behind King and Luburgh’s combined 27 points.
But the Bulls stormed back in the second half, outscoring the Zips 22-9 to take a 58-57 lead with 12:27 left in the game behind Sharkey’s efforts in the post. She scored 20 points in the second half.
The Bulls had a 46-34 advantage in the paint on their ability to work the ball inside along with their defense consistently collapsing on UA’s Tecca.
“I had a pretty tough time out there today,” said Tecca, who was selected the MAC’s player of the year earlier this week. “They were doubling me a lot and I think I just had a bad spin on the ball out there today. I just couldn’t get it to drop.”
A lot of that had to do with Buffalo, which was playing its second game in as many days, UA coach Jodi Kest said.
“They didn’t just have two people on her; they had three and four and they did a great job. So let’s give them a little credit,” she said.
From the moment Buffalo took its slim lead, the game evolved into a see-saw affair with no team leading by more than four points.
With 5:43 left in the game and the Bulls leading 70-66, UA guard Taylor Ruper, who shot only twice from the floor, made the one that mattered most — a 3-pointer. She also drew a foul on the shot by the Bulls’ Sloane Walton. Ruper made the free throw to complete the four-point play and tie the score.
“We needed that,” Kest said with a sigh of relief. “[It] was a tough second half. They had momentum and they felt good. And when you’re feeling good, it doesn’t matter how many games you’ve played in a row.
“When [Ruper] made that, it definitely got our kids fired up and that’s when the momentum definitely switched.”
The Bulls’ Gupilan agreed.
“I think it did fuel them,” she said. “We did keep our composure; we didn’t let it get us frazzle-dazzled. We stayed at a level where we were able to come back and stay focused, but I do think that was their spark of the game.”
It might have been the spark, but it didn’t douse the Bulls’ desire.
The lead changed hand four more times and even when the Zips captured it for good, the Bulls did not fold.
It’s during such stretches when players such as Tecca step up. Despite her struggles offensively, she kept working and made a layup to give the Zips a 79-76 lead with 1:12 to go.
“Huge,” Kest said.
Then after Gupilan missed on a 3-pointer to tie, UA rebounded and found King for a layup and five-point lead with 26 seconds to go.
The Zips will play Ball State at 2:30 today in a semifinal.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.