BUFFALO, NY - In a game dictated throughout by the defense, a small offensive outburst late helped to push the Bulls to a victory in a must-win situation Wednesday night at Alumni Arena, beating Toledo 51-46. Freshman Alexus Malone scored four of her 13 points in the final minute of the game broke a 44-44 tie and then put the game away, allowing the Bulls (8-7, 1-3 MAC) to claim victory over the Rockets (7-8, 2-2) for just the third time in the 20 games between the two programs all-time.
After a half that saw the lead swing back and forth, the Bulls trailed 44-42 with less than two minutes to play in the game. Christa Baccas pulled down an offensive rebound and put it back in to tie the game back up. Toledo had possession when the one-minute mark rolled around, and Malone was drawn out of the post to guard Inma Zanoguera. After dribbling to the left side at the top of the key, she went up for a shot. Malone would meet her perfectly on the way up, a knocked the shot away and into the backcourt. She would pick up the loose ball on a 1-on-2 fast break, and would get to the basket. After collecting herself under the hoop, she put the team ahead with a layup.
Following a Toledo turnover, Malone would draw the foul and went to the line for a pair of free throw with just 25 seconds left. She cooly sank both to give UB a four-point lead, and the Bulls never looked back.
"It was all about the defense, we were calm and switching everything, and it just came," Malone said about her late-game heroics. "And when it did I knew the game was on the line and I had to be patient. In practice we were put in these positions and so I went back to that mindset to calm down."
The team started out the game cold, starting 0-4 from the field with three turnovers to put Toledo ahead 12-2 just six minutes in.
"We didn't talk a lot about Toledo in the locker room, we talked about us standing for something, head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. "At first our starter were so high that we had to bring in different energy, and that came from Ayana Bradley and Karin Moss. We were too high early on, but once our starters were able to sit down and reflect they were able to come back out and play defense."
The Bulls would rally back thanks to the defense in the opening half, ending it on a 22-5 run to take a 24-17 lead into the break. Buffalo's zone gave the Rockets fits, holding them to just 19.7 percent shooting while forcing 12 turnovers and making nine steals.
The savy Rockets would not go away, however, and tied the game up at 32 with just 12 minutes left before going ahead for the next seven minutes of action. The Bulls would fight back to tie it up thanks to yeoman's work in the post, as Kristen Sharkey, Baccas and Malone would earn high-percentage shots to set up the dramatic finish.
Baccas would finish with her second double-double in as many games, while Malone would join her for her second career double-double thanks to 13 points and 10 rebounds.
"Alexus is a kid that you need to tell her what you want, as passionate as you want, but tell her what you want because she'll go out and get it," coach Jack said. "Today, she proved to me that I can be a little bit tougher on her because she's going to respond."
Toledo would shoot just 25.7 percent from the floor, marking the ninth time under head coach Felisha Legette-Jack that UB held an opponent to under 30 percent from the field in a game. The Rockets dominated the glass for a 51-40 rebounding advantage that included 27 offensive rebounds, but the Buffalo defense was suffocating. The team forced 20 turnovers and had 12 steals with seven blocked shots. While it was the team's second-lowest scoring output of the season, the defense yielded the lowest output of the season for opponent scoring, besting the season-opening 47 points from Binghamton.
Mackenzie Loesing returned to form against Toledo, scoring a team-high 15 points while rounding out her game well with three assists, four steals and five rebounds. Her two free throws with four seconds to play would make it a two-possession game and officially clinch the win.
Buffalo will wrap up its longest homestand of the season on Saturday, welcoming another tough opponent in Eastern Michigan. The game against the Eagles will tip at 2:30, as part of a double header with men's basketball.