MAC Madness: Kent State vs. Buffalo (again) in tournament quarterfinals

Merissa vs BG

Against Bowling Green Monday, Merissa Barber-Smith had one of KSU’s best games of the season by any player. She had 20 rebounds, tied for seventh in school history, 10 points and three blocked shots. (Photo by Austin Mariasy.)


The baseball term is “rubber game.”

The football term is “sudden death” (or “sudden victory,” as some try to call it),

The basketball term is “March Madness” as Kent State plays in the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals. The Flahses face Buffalo for the second time in five days and the third time this season.

Last Saturday the Flashes beat Buffalo 62-53 at the M.A.C. Center in the final  game of the regular season. It was a solid offensive and great defensive effort for the Flashes, who held Buffalo 24 points below its scoring average. The Bulls made only 26 percent of their shots, 14 points below their average and a season low.

A month earlier Buffalo built a big first-half lead and fought off a Kent State rally to win 75-66. In that game, Buffalo made 42 percent of its shots. KSU had the shooting problems in that game, making just under 30 percent in the first half. In the second, they made 52 percent.

So the teams meet again at about 2:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena. It’s a true rubber game, the deciding contest in a three-game series.

And the stakes are what they always are in the postseason: The winner advances, probably playing league-champion Central Michigan in the semifinals. The loser goes home and waits for a WNIT bid, something both teams have a good shot at.

The questions that will decide the game are these:

  • Can Kent State keep playing complete games? In beating Akron in overtime last week, Buffalo on Saturday and Bowling Green in the tournament opener Monday, KSU lost just three quarters by a total of seven points. For most of the season, the Flashes have played as they did in the first Buffalo game — two or three good quarters, one or two bad ones.
  • Can Kent’s defense against play as well as it did against the Bulls on Saturday? Will Buffalo struggle on offense two games in a row? Buffalo has had six games this season in which it has shot less than 30 percent. It’s never had two games like that in a row.
  • Can Kent State contain Buffalo star guard Cierra Dillard again? She’s the No. 2 scorer in Division I, averaging 25 points a game. Against KSU Saturday, she scored 18 and fouled out with six minutes left. She has fouled out five times this season.
  • Can Kent State keep getting the great scoring balance it has had over the last three games? The Flashes had four players score in double figures against Akron and Buffalo and five against Bowling Green. It’s hard to defend a team when everyone can score.
  • Can 6-4 senior center Merissa Barber-Smith keep playing the best basketball of her career? She has made five of her 13 starts in KSU’s last five games and averaged 13.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots. She scored nine points against against Akron and 10 points against Bowling Green — her two best games of the season. She has made 12 of her 18 shots in five games — way above her average earlier in the season. She’ll need to play well. Buffalo has big, strong rebounders.

Buffalo was one of the best teams on the conference for most of the season. The Bulls’ RPI is 37 of 351 Division I teams.

For three of the last four games, the Flashes played like one of the best teams in the conference.

The question for Wednesday: Can they keep it up?

About the game

No. 4 seed Buffalo (20-8 overall) vs. Kent State (19-11) at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals.

About Buffalo

IN THE MAC: Finished fourth at 12-6, a game ahead of Kent State and three games behind first-place Central Michigan. Runner-up to Central in last year’s MAC Tournament, got an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet 16.

RPI: 37 of 351 teams. Schedule strength: 64. 19th-ranked mid-major team by Beat Kent State 75-66 in Buffalo on Feb. 9, lost at Kent State 62-53 on March 9.

LAST GAME: Lost to Kent State on Saturday. Had first-round bye in the tournament.

KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)

(I’m switching to conference-game-only statistics because they better reflect how a team is playing now.)

  • Scores 76.3 points a game, second in MAC. Opponents score 67.5 (fifth). Field-goal percentage: 42.0 (fourth). Field-goal defense: 39.3 (fourth).
  • 3-point percentage: 31.2 (ninth). 3-point baskets per game: 6.9 (seventh). 3-point defense: 30.2 (third). Free throw percentage 76.3 (second).
  • Rebounding margin: Plus-5.1 (second). Offensive rebounds per game: 14.9 (first).
  • Turnover margin: Plus-2.3 (third). Steals per game: 9.4 (second). Blocked shots per game: 3.0 (fourth).


  • 5-foot-9 senior guard Cierra Dillard: 25.2 points per game, first in MAC and second in nation). Assists per game: 6.4 (first). Steals: 2.7 (second). Field-goal percentage: 37.1 (11th). Three-point percentage: 32.4 (10th). Three-pointers per game: 3.2 (second). Free-throw percentage: 79.7 (sixth). All-MAC first team. Runner-up for MAC player of the year.
  • 6-1 junior center Summer Hemphill: 13.6 points (14th). Rebounds: 10.4  (second). Field-goal percentage: 59.2 (first). Free-throw percentage: 69.4 (17th). Blocks: 1.2 (fourth). Al-=MAC second team.
  • 6-2 junior center Theresa Onwuka (9.8 points, 5.4 rebounds).

Kent State

IN THE MAC: Finished regular season tied for fifth at 11-7.

RPI: 77. Schedule strength: 88. Lost at Buffalo 75-66 on Feb. 9. Beat Bulls in Kent 62-53 on March 2.

LAST GAME: Beat Bowling Green 86-62 Monday in tournament first-round game in Kent.

KEY TEAM STATS (conference games only)

  • 65.7 points a game (eighth in MAC). Opponents average 63.4 (second).
  • Field-goal percentage: 37.1 (last). Field-goal defense: 39.2 (third). Free-throw percentage: 72.7 (sixth).
  • 3-point percentage: 33.0 (sixth). 3-point baskets per game: 7.2 (sixth). Three-point defense: 32.0 (sixth).
  • Rebounding margin: Plus-0.9 (fifth). Offensive rebounds per game: 12.4 (second). Turnover margin: Plus 0.4 (fifth).
  • Blocked shots: 4.2 (first). Steals: 8.2 (third).


  • 5-7 redshirt junior guard Megan Carter: 16.3 points per game, ninth in MAC. Field-goal percentage: 40.2 (ninth). 3-point percentage: 40.4. Free-throw percentage: 73.4 (12th). All-MAC third team.
  • 5-9 senior guard Alexa Golden: 8.4 points. Steals: 3.3 (first). Assists: 3.1 (15th). Blocks: 0.7 (16th). Rebounds: 6.4 (17th). All-MAC defensive team.
  • 5-4 freshman point guard Asiah Dingle: 13.1 points (18th). Field-goal percentage: 36.4. Free-throw percentage: 73.6 (ninth) . Steals: 2.0 (eighth). Assists: 2.3 (24th). MAC all-freshman team. Runner-up for freshman of the year.
  • 6-2 freshman forward Lindsay Thall: 10.7 points. 3-point percentage: 45.8 (first). 3-point baskets per game: 2.1 (10th). Blocked shots: 1.9 (first). Rebounds: 5.0. All-MAC freshman team.
  • 6-4 senior center Merissa Barber-Smith: 7.2 rebounds (11th). Blocked shots: 0.8 (tied for seventh).
  • 6-0 junior guard Ali Poole: 9.8 points. Rebounds: 4.2.

To follow the game

Action starts a half hour after Eastern Michigan-Central Michigan game ends, probably about 2:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. It’s about an hour’s drive from Kent. Here are directions from the Q’s website. There’s an attached parking garage and many other garages and surface lots close by. General admission tickets are $10 and a ticket covers all four Wednesday games.

Audio starts at about 1:45 p.m. on Golden Flash iHeart Radio. David Wilson does play-by-play

Video is through ESPN+, which costs $4.99 a month. The network will carry all MAC Tournament games except the women’s finals and the men’s semifinals and finals. You can watch through ESPN on your television or computer, or through the ESPN app.

Live statistics are available through the MAC website.


Preview from Kent State women’s website, including links to statistics, roster and more.

Preview from Buffalo website, including links.

Detailed media game notes from Buffalo.

Final MAC conference-game statistics, including link to full-season stats.

Final MAC standings

Tournament pairings

Wednesday’s quarterfinals

  • No. 9 Eastern Michigan (14-16 overall, 6-12inn regular MAC season) vs. No. 1 Central Michigan (24-6, 15-3), noon.
  • No. 5 Kent State (19-11, 11-7) vs. No. 4 Buffalo (20-9, 12-6), about 2:30 p.m.
  • No. 7 Northern Illinois (19-12, 10-8) vs. No. 2 Ohio (25-4, 14-4), about 5 p.m.
  • No. 6 Toledo (20-10, 11-7) vs. No. 3 Miami 22-7, 13-5), about 7:30 p.m.

Games start a half hour after the previous one ends.

All games are on ESPN+, which costs $4.99 per month.

Friday’s semifinals 

  • Central Michigan-Eastern Michigan winner vs. Buffalo-Kent State winner, 11 a.m.
  • Ohio-Northern Illinois winner vs. Miami-Toledo winner, about 1:30 p.m. 

(Both games on ESPN+)

Saturday’s finals

  • Tipoff is at 11 a.m. on the CBS Sports Network.

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