Cleveland, OH- Akron and Buffalo got the semi-final round rolling at The Q this afternoon. The 8th-seeded Buffalo Bulls looked to build off of their upset against the 1st-seeded Ohio Bobcats, while the 5th seeded Lady Zips of Akron tried to continue their momentum after knocking off the Toledo Rockets in an overtime thriller powered by senior Anita Brown.
The first quarter got off to a blazing start; both teams came out of the gate making three-pointers at a video game rate. Akron’s Hannah Plybon started off her afternoon draining 3 straight 3’s to give the Zips an early lead. Joanna Smith, the star of the Bulls upset over the Bobcats, answered Plybon’s hot streak with two 3’s of her own. With the help of a Stephanie Reid three, Buffalo ended the first quarter on a 7-0 run to give them a 22-19 lead going into the second. Akron and Buffalo combined for 9 three-pointers in the first quarter.
The Zip’s hot streak from behind the arc would not stop and sparked a 16-4 run to start off the second quarter, led by Lily Piper, that propelled Akron to a 35-26 lead with 5 minutes remaining in the first half. Stingy defense and Lily Piper’s shooting allowed Akron to crack open a double-digit lead over Buffalo, 44-32. Buffalo would cut the Akron lead down to 5 behind the dynamic duo of Smith and Reid’s combined 19 points. Piper would miss her first shot with 58 seconds left in the half; she finished the half with an incredible 18 points off the bench on 7-8 shooting and 3-3 from behind the arc. Piper would finish with 24 points, setting a new career high. The first two quarters of play saw tremendous shooting from both sides; the Zips held a 46-41 lead going into halftime.
Akron’s shooting hit a snag to start the third, the Zips missed their first 5 shots from behind the arc until Lily Piper ended the cold streak with a 6:50 left in the third. There was a huge shift in momentum with 7 minutes left in the opening quarter of the second half. Stephanie Reid, Buffalo’s leading scorer at the time, was called for a reach in foul and then an immediate technical to foul her out of the game. Reid finished the day with 13 points and 4 assists. Anita Brown struggled for most of the day and seemed to reach the peak of her frustrations late in the third quarter after she missed a breakaway layup and took her time getting back on defense. Diandra Gibson and Lily Piper continued to pick up the slack and carry the offensive load for Akron throughout the third quarter. Even without Reid, Buffalo rallied to tie the game at 56 with 3 minutes to go in the quarter. Defense and rebounding were the factors that kept the Bulls battling after the departure of their point guard. The third quarter ended with the Zips retaking control of the lead 62-59 heading into the final period of play.
Both squads amped up the intensity on the defensive end, not allowing either team’s star player to get comfortable. Heading into the middle of the fourth it became a game of benches and role players to wrestle victory away from the opponent. Stephanie Reid’s replacement Gabi Bade and the Bulls’ forward Cassie Oursler kept the Buffalo offense afloat for the opening minutes of the fourth taking the lead at 70-69, the Bull’s first lead since the second quarter. Momentum continued to ride with the Bulls when Joanna Smith dove headfirst into the Akron bench to save a ball, and subsequently hit a three pointer the next possession to give Buffalo a 73-69 advantage. Crafty ball movement on the offensive side of the ball combined with lock down defense gave Buffalo a strong hold on the game leading 77-72 with a minute and a half remaining. The Bulls continued to leave the door open for an Akron comeback by missing their free throws. Back to back threes by Anita Brown and Hannah Plybon cut the lead down to three with 48 seconds left, making the score 84-81. A Buffalo put back with 19 seconds left in the game seemed to be the dagger in the heart for Zip nation. Anita Brown was fouled on a three pointer with 7 seconds left, and after hitting all three free throws, gave the Zips a little hope down only two. A Buffalo offensive rebound and an and-1 conversion after two missed free throws all but sealed the game. The final score was 88-87 Buffalo. Buffalo advances to the MAC Championship against the winner of Central Michigan vs. Eastern Michigan.