BUFFALO, NY – The Buffalo women's basketball team had an inspired comeback Saturday afternoon, erasing a 13-point lead midway through the second half for Northern Illinois (8-14, 4-8 MAC), and turned it into an 11-point lead in the waning seconds. Spurred on by a career-high 20 points from freshman Alexus Malone, the Bulls (14-9, 7-5 MAC) pulled out a 66-57 win over the Huskies in a must-win Mid-American Conference game for the team.
The 13 points is the most the Bulls have trailed in any game it has come back to win this season, with the second biggest comeback being 10 in the 51-46 win over Toledo.
The offense struggled mightily for much of the game, and were hit hard by a cold stretch late in the first half that keyed an 18-0 run for Northern Illinois that turned an eight point lead for UB at the 8:20 mark into a Huskie advantage with 2:47 remaining before the break. Between the start of the NIU run and until the visitors would take its largest lead of 13 with 11:44 to play, it was a 32-11 streak.
Down 48-35 at the under-12 media timeout, the team used a sizeable run of its own to take back the lead for good. Buffalo would convert three different three-point plays in just under three minutes, igniting the crowd and kicking off what would wind up being a 20-1 run that featured a mix of great defense and an opportunistic offense. Malone would finish with 13 points, five rebounds and four steals in the second half alone, while her teammate on the post Kristen Sharkey would score 12 of her game-high 21 in the second half as well. The team was again cold from deep, hitting just 2-16 attempts from three, but the combination of Malone and Sharkey would lead an interior offense that shot 19-31 (61.3 percent) on two point field goals.
Malone's 20 points marked the second straight season that the team had a freshman reach that milestone, joining Mackenzie Loesing's 20 points against Bowling Green last February. Buffalo was able to put the game away late thanks to terrific free throw shooting, hitting 76 percent in the game. Malone and Sharkey combined to hit 16-18 attempts at the line, with Malone's 8-10 day also setting a new career high for the Mississippi native.
The win was a crucial one for the Bulls, who now move to 7-5 in conference play and remain in the hunt for a top four seed in the fast-approaching Mid-American Conference tournament. The team finishes with a 5-3 record against the MAC West division, and is 8-2 in the friendly confines of Alumni Arena. The home stretch of the East division race begins on the road this Wednesday, with UB taking on rival Kent State at 7 pm.