After trailing early, only to seize control of the game in the second and third quarters, No. 7 seed Rutgers fell to no. 10 Buffalo 82-71 in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday evening. The Scarlet Knights struggled to score in the final frame against the zone of Buffalo and the 55 defense couldn’t slow down the Bulls high powered attack. They were outscored in the fourth quarter 23-10, after holding a 4 point lead with 9 minutes to play.
Buffalo seized control early behind success from three-point range, as they led 27-21 at the end of the first quarter. After trailing by as many 8 points early in the second quarter, Rutgers woke up in a big way on both ends of the floor to take a 43-41 lead at the half. This was in spite of the fact that Buffalo hit a three at the buzzer of both the end of the 1st and 2nd quarters.
The 55 defense started to slow down the Bulls in the second quarter and it continued after halftime, as the Scarlet Knights came out strong and jumped out to a 52-43 lead. However, Buffalo fought back with a 10-0 run and it was a back and forth affair the rest of the third quarter. Rutgers led 61-59 entering the fourth quarter and the season on the line.
Unfortunately, the Bulls made 6 of 11 shots from the floor and 9 of 11 free throws in the final frame, while Rutgers looked tired and struggled against the zone, making just 5 of 15 shots in the fourth quarter and not getting to the foul line once.
Despite forcing 23 turnovers and holding a +8 margin, Rutgers was outscored 21-19 in points off of turnovers. While Buffalo was +6 on the boards, Rutgers was +4 on the offensive glass and held a 17-8 edge in second chance points. However, they couldn’t hold on in the end.
Buffalo shot 50% from the field and were 12 of 23 for 52.2% from three point range, as well as 16 of 19 for 84.2% from the foul line. While Rutgers was able to somewhat slow down Cierra Dillard, the nation’s second leading scorer, she still produced 20 points on 6 of 17 shooting. Dillard also had 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals. In addition, forward Summer Hemphill was a problem inside and led the Bulls with 23 points on 9 of 14 shooting. She added 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. Hanna Hill and Autumn Jones added 12 points each, combining to make 5 of 7 shots from behind the arc.
Rutgers shot 42.6% from the floor but just 4 of 21 for 19.0% from three-point range. They also made just 9 of 15 free throws for 60%, well below its season average.
The Scarlet Knights were led by senior and Second Team All-Big Ten selection Stasha Carey, who fittingly delivered a double-double in her final collegiate game, scoring 20 points on 9 of 13 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds. She was a warrior throughout her career and will be hard for the program to replace.
All-Big Ten Honorable Mention selection Arella Guirantes had 14 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals. However she was just 6 of 17 from the field, including 0-5 from three-point range and committed 6 turnovers. Tekia Mack was a spark off the bench, adding 10 points and 3 rebounds. Zippy Broughton was as well, finishing with 8 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds,and 0 turnovers.
The 2018-2019 season is over and it certainly had its ups and downs. Head Coach C. Vivian Stringer missed the final few weeks of the season due to a medical leave. CC Cryor and Caitlin Jenkins, the third and fifth leading scorers on the team, were dismissed with just a few games left in the season. Reserve Sierra Calhoun left the team this week on her own and Noga Peleg Pelc, a freshman who led the team from three-point range this season, left the game in the first quarter due to injury. It became too much for this team to overcome.
Give the players that were on the court tonight a lot of credit. They never quit this season and fought until the end. A final 22-10 record, a program best third place finish in the Big Ten and the first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015 were all positives from this season. With Stringer set to return in the offseason and 5-star recruit Maori Davenport on her way, the program will look to take another step forward next season.