COLUMBUS – After her team lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Ohio State, Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack had one message.
“The next season starts tomorrow,” she said.
The Bulls lost their first ever NCAA tournament game, 88-69, to the Buckeyes at St. John Arena Friday afternoon.
But in all honesty, the real purpose of this trip was to gain first-hand experience. It’s difficult to prepare for something you’ve never done.
“Winning to me is about knowing you’ve been there before and I couldn’t demonstrate to them what it takes. They had to go through that,” Legette-Jack said. “That first half was like, ‘We haven’t been here before!’ and that second half was ‘You know what, let’s just do what we do and let the chips fall where they may.’ … We had to go through this and I’m glad we went through this together. … They just had to get here. They had to see it. They had to smell it. They had to touch it. And now that we’ve done that, we’re on our way.”
The Bulls sprinted out of the gates to a 5-0 lead but any upset notion was short-lived. Ohio State started running and gunning, scoring in transition and from the perimeter, catching Buffalo playing too far outside its comfort zone. A 22-1 spurt gave the Buckeyes a commanding 30-12 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“I thought we were pretty aggressive but at the end of the day they don’t shrink,” UB sophomore guard Joanna Smith said.
“I think at one point we had our foot on the pedal too much,” said Smith, who led the Bulls with 23 points. “We did get into their pace. Coach Jack explained before the game that we didn’t want to play at their pace. For a couple minutes in the first and second quarter, we did and that’s when they were able to get their lead.”
The Bulls played their entire roster and had a much better showing in the second half, outscoring Ohio State, 46-40.
“Talent is great,” Legette-Jack said. “There’s something about knowing you were here before and you played differently. In second half, I know they put subs in but they only went eight deep. We did a tremendous job in the second half and we realized there’s just five players out there.”
The Bulls ended their season at 20-14 and lose only one player to graduation – reserve guard Karin Moss.
And the returning players are hungry for another chance at the NCAA stage.
“This is definitely something we build on,” Smith said. “This game has taught our team a lot about the big dogs. We can compete with the best in the country. Personally I think it’s taught me what I need to work on to play on a stage like this.”
That should make Legette-Jack happy. She wants to see players back in the gym and watching as much of the women’s tournament as possible to learn what winning looks like at this level.
“They need to watch more basketball and really understand the magnitude of the moment,” Legette-Jack said. “The officials are going to call it differently. The stage is different for them just like the stage is different for us. We’ve got to be able to adapt and adjust and you’ve got to see that.”