CLEVELAND, OH – Cierra Dillard has had a remarkable career but she didn’t want to see it end outside of the NCAA Tournament.
Following her performance on Friday, she won’t need to worry about that happening anymore.
The Bulls senior sensation scored a game-high 30 points, leading Buffalo to an 82-77 victory over Central Michigan, likely securing a spot in the big dance while advancing to the MAC Championship Game versus Ohio.
The win provided a tremendous boost to UB’s at-large chances but their star guard isn’t concerned about the NCAA Tournament, yet.
“We’re not focusing on NCAAs right now. We obviously have a really big game tomorrow and both teams are really, really great,” said Dillard, “We have to focus on another 40 minutes and we want something other than an NCAA Tournament bid, we want a MAC Championship.”
She didn’t do it alone. Dillard had a ton of help around her, most notably from Summer Hemphill who dominated, posting 24 points and nine rebounds.
“The post is the foundation of the team. So once we get going, the guards see, okay, they’ve got our rebounds, that gets the guards going. And Cierra went off today and we needed that,” said Hemphill.
Dillard was impressed by her junior teammate.
“She’s unbelievable. And the crazy thing about it, she’s just tapping into her potential. That’s how crazy it is. She’s just tapping into our potential,” said Dillard.
The game was a tale of two halves.
It opened as a defensive battle with both teams struggling to get going on the offensive side of the ball. Central Michigan took a 29-28 lead into the half with Dillard finishing the first 20 minutes, 2-12 from the field.
Safe to say, things drastically changed following the break.
The two teams combined for 58 points in the 3rd quarter as they started settling in at Quicken Loans Arena.
Buffalo used an 18-5 run to take a 59-46 lead late in the 3rd quarter. They extended their advantage to 14 with the Bulls looking poised to cruise.
But the Chippewas weren’t finished.
Central Michigan finished the 3rd quarter on a 5-0 run, then followed that up with a 15-2 run to open the 4th to turn what was once a 14-point deficit into a 68-64 lead.
Despite the momentum flipped against them, Buffalo remained focused, eventually turning things around.
“We try to play the game incrementally five minutes at a time,” said Felisha Legette-Jack, “For this team, it seems to work for us. It seems to work where you don’t put people out and say you’re wrong and you’re good.”
From there, the game tightly contested the rest of the way.
Dillard and Hemphill were both huge in the second half, combining for 36 points.
Hanna Hall and Theresa Onwuka were also huge in the win, finishing with 10 points apiece.
Hall connected on one of the biggest shots of the game, hitting a 3 with 1:29 remaining to give the Bulls a four point lead.
Buffalo didn’t look back from there, securing their 3rd trip to the MAC Championship in the past four years.
“We haven’t seen the best of Buffalo yet and I think the best is yet to come,” said Felisha Legette-Jack.