Buffalo always knew it would be heading back to the Empire State after the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in Tallahassee, Florida. Even the MAC team might be a little surprised that the ultimate destination is the state capital of Albany instead of their home city a few hours west.
Although the Bulls didn't act surprised by their surroundings Monday night.
The Sweet 16 has its double-digit Cinderella after No. 11 seed Buffalo defeated third-seeded Florida State 86-65 on the ACC team's home court in the second round. Actually, it has two of them, and they're both from the MAC after No. 11 Central Michigan also won its second-round game, defeating Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio.
Two days after not just upsetting No. 6 seed South Florida but scoring 102 points in a rout, Buffalo led Florida State by double-digits for all but a minute in the second half and led by some margin for more than 33 minutes in the game.
Buffalo's Cierra Dillard led Buffalo with 22 points, while Summer Hemphill added 17 points and 11 rebounds. Florida State's Shakayla Thomas led all scorers with 25 points.
It was a good stay in Florida for a program that had played just one NCAA tournament game in its history prior to receiving an at-large bid out of the MAC this season.
While Quinnipiac advanced to the Sweet 16 a season ago as a No. 12 seed, Buffalo and Central Michigan are the first No. 11 seeds to advance since Gonzaga in 2015.
The MAC mates, who played three games decided by a total of 15 points this season, are also the first pair of teams seeded No. 11 or lower to reach the Sweet 16 since Gonzaga and Kansas in 2012. The only other time that happened was Stephen F. Austin and San Francisco in 1996.
Player of the game: It's a closer call than it was when she scored 36 points in the opening round, but Dillard has to get the nod after finishing with 22 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. If there was a signature play in a game that didn't require any last-second heroics, it might well have been Dillard finishing with heavy contact on a layup in transition in the first half and then mock flexing her arms to celebrate her strength. The Bulls and their best player weren't going to be intimidated, and they were going to have fun.
But Dillard had plenty of help, most notably from Hemphill's work against ACC bodies in the paint and point guard Stephanie Reid. One of the NCAA's leaders in assists, Reid scored 18 points and hit a bevy of high-degree-of-difficulty shots to keep Buffalo on track during the game.
How it was won: As important as 3-pointers were to Buffalo's success in the first round, it didn't shoot itself into the Sweet 16. It kept Florida State from shooting itself anywhere but out of the tournament. Buffalo limited Florida State to 34 percent shooting from the field and forced 17 turnovers. The Bulls played the Seminoles nearly even on the boards and scored more points in the paint. In other words, they simply outplayed the higher seed in almost every facet.
Stat of the game: Buffalo's 47 percent field goal shooting. Buffalo flirted with shooting 50 percent from the field for the second game in a row, even on a night when its 3-pointers weren't falling. This is a really good basketball team that survived what was the most competitive mid-major conference this season. That doesn't mean it isn't also playing a bit beyond itself at the moment. Buffalo shot 43 percent from the floor during the regular season and conference tournament -- almost good enough to crack the top 50 nationally but still not what they've managed in the past two games. That's part of getting upsets. Good teams find their best groove of the season.
What's next: That would be No. 2 seed and defending national champion South Carolina and current espnW player of the year A'ja Wilson in a regional semifinal in Albany. The region also includes No. 1 overall seed UConn. That's the kind of company Buffalo is keeping these days.