By JOE REEDY
The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A week ago Buffalo was waiting to find out if it earned one of the final four at-large berths to the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Now the 11th-seeded Bulls are headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
Cierra Dillard scored 22 points as Buffalo shocked No. 3 seed Florida State 86-65 in a second-round game on Monday night. The Bulls (29-5) won’t have far to go for the regional semifinal as it will face defending champion and second-seeded South Carolina on Saturday in Albany, New York.
“We made history. It hasn’t sunk in and hit us,” Dillard said. “We’re going to the Sweet 16 and to be a mid-major. It’s an amazing feeling. This is the year of upsets and to be a part of that is great.”
The Bulls are the also the first Mid-American Conference team since Bowling Green in 2007 to advance to the Sweet 16. They were joined moments later by MAC rival Central Michigan which knocked off Ohio State also as an 11-seed.
Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack said she got off the phone with Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara after their game was done. The Bulls were the first team from the conference to earn an at-large berth in 22 years.
“Our goal was to let people know that the MAC was alive and well,” Legette-Jack said.
Buffalo made 14 3-pointers in its first-round win over South Florida but was able to work it more inside against Florida State (26-7). It shot 47.4 percent from the field but more importantly went 27 of 30 on free throws.
The Bulls were also able to generate a lot of their offense from their defense. They held the Seminoles to 33.8 percent from the field and 3 of 25 on 3-pointers.
“There were a lot of shots that were out of rhythm, it wasn’t just the three. The long rebounds fueled their fast-break opportunities,” Florida State coach Sue Semrau said. “Sometimes you have games that you just can’t get a rhythm. That was the game for us.”
Stephanie Reid scored 18 points and Summer Hemphill added 17 points and 11 rebounds for Buffalo.
Buffalo seized control late in the first half. The game was tied at 28 with 2:05 remaining when the Bulls closed the half with a 10-2 run, including eight straight points by Dillard, to take a 39-30 lead at halftime.
The Bulls would then extend the lead to 14 with a 7-2 run to start the third quarter. Florida State drew within 55-45 with 1:24 remaining in the third quarter but would not get any closer. The Bulls would lead by as many as 23 late in the fourth quarter.
Florida State, which was hoping to make the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year, was led by Shakayla Thomas’ 25 points while Nausia Woolfolk added 12.