CLEVELAND — Buffalo women's basketball at its best is awfully tough to beat.
Kent State ran into a Bulls squad firing on all cylinders in Wednesday's Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals. Fourth-seeded Buffalo (21-9) dominated the game from start to finish and strolled to an 85-52 triumph over the fifth-seeded Golden Flashes (19-12) at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Wednesday's Bulls resembled the stellar 2017-18 team that won two games in the NCAA Tournament much more than the lackluster one that lost by nine points at Kent State just last Saturday.
“I was walking past [Ohio coach Bob] Boldon on the way in [to the postgame news conference]. He said, 'When Buffalo's really interested, they're the best team in the league,' and he's right,” KSU coach Todd Starkey said. “They're the most athletic team in the league. They have the ability to really disrupt everything you do if they stay disciplined defensively. They kind of flipped the switch and took things to a different level defensively.”
Scoring was indeed a struggle for the Flashes, who shot 30 percent from the field and only took 13 free throws compared to 30 for the Bulls.
Junior guard Megan Carter led Kent State with 19 points and seven rebounds, but made just 7-of-19 field goals. Forward Lindsey Thall added 12 points but was 2-of-8 on 3-pointers, and fellow All-MAC Freshman Team honoree Asiah Dingle finished with more turnovers (six) than points (five) at the point guard slot. Dingle had scored 41 points in her previous two games.
“I thought we had a good game plan for them. We didn't execute it for the best,” Starkey said. “They're going to try and disrupt what you do, and they were able to do that against us for sure.”
Buffalo was equally stellar offensively, scorching a typically stingy Flashes defense for a season-high 85 points. Kent State had not allowed 70 points in more than a month, and no more than 62 in four previous March games.
The Bulls shot 50 percent from the floor and made 26-of-30 free throws, after managing just 53 points against the Flashes on Saturday.
“I think they shot the ball a lot better than they did Saturday,” Carter said. “They were just getting good looks and converting.”
Watching senior guard Cierra Dillard, the second-leading scorer in the country at 25.3 points per game, post 22 points was no surprise. But sophomore guard Hanna Hall's 16-point contribution came out of nowhere. Hall did not score in last Saturday's KSU victory, and had not reached double digits in her past 10 games before draining 4-of-5 3-pointers against the Flashes.
Hall previewed what was to come by opening the game with a 3-pointer, and Dillard added a bomb of her own to cap an 11-0 spurt to start things off.
The Flashes actually withstood that first barrage. Carter made a pull-up jumper and a 3-pointer to cut Buffalo's lead to 11-7. But the Bulls unleashed another wave that Kent State was not able to answer, scoring nine of the next 11 points to go ahead 20-9 after Dillard made another 3 late in the first quarter.
Kent State trailed 41-21 at halftime. Thall made two 3-pointers early in the second half, but Hall struck right back with two of her own to put the Bulls ahead 52-29 and they never let up.