MEDFORD, Mass. – The Tufts University women's basketball team fell to Amherst College in the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship game, 44-40, Sunday afternoon in Amherst's LaFrek Gymnasium.
|Baptista scored a team-high 13 points in the NESCAC final.|
The win for the Mammoths (27-0, 10-0 NESCAC) marks their third consecutive championship and their 60th win in a row. The Jumbos (23-4, 8-2 NESCAC) have made it to the conference final five years in a row and six of the last seven. The NESCAC championship game has been between Tufts and Amherst for three straight years and four out of the last five years.
Melissa Baptista led the Jumbos with 13 points, three rebounds, three blocks, and two steals. Erica DeCandido had 10 points, four rebounds, two assists, and a steal and Jack Knapp, who played all 40 minutes for Tufts, finished with nine points, six rebounds, two steals, and an assist. Madeline Eck led all scorers with 17 points and added four rebounds and three assists as well. Hannah Fox and Hannah Hackley each finished with eight points for the Mammoths.
The first quarter opened with some sloppy play by Amherst who was responsible for eight turnovers in the frame. Emily Briggs opened the scoring with a jumper and was followed quickly by layups from DeCandido and Baptista. The Mammoths briefly took the lead by one after a shot by Eck with three minutes remaining in the frame, but free throws by DeCandido and Brigss and a three-pointer by Baptista gave the Jumbos the lead, 14-11, going into the second quarter.
Amherst took the lead at the beginning of the second frame on the back of Fox's two straight threes to go up by three. But Tufts answered back with a 9-0 run of their own with points from DeCandido, Baptista, and Knapp to go up 23-17. Eck hit two jumpers as time in the quarter winded down to bring the Mammoths back within two. That's where the first half of play would end. The Jumbos played some good defense in the first half, grabbing four steals and causing 10 turnovers.
Tufts opened the second half cold, missing their first four shots and seeing their two-point lead turn into a six-point deficit. Knapp finally got one to fall practically half way through the third quarter. Then after a free throw by Knapp, Dillon hit a three from the corner to tie it up at 29. The two sides traded buckets for the remainder of the frame with Amherst sprinkling in a few free throws as well to give the Mammoths their first lead to end a quarter, 35-32.
Amherst stretched their lead to five after a bucket by Hackley at the beginning of the fourth. Baptista, DeCandido, and Briggs all hit shots to shrink the Mammoths' lead to one and then Baptista hit one of two free throws to tie it at 39. With three minutes to go in the game, Eck hit her second three of the contest, and only third of the season, to give Amherst the lead.
On the Jumbos' next possession Baptista was fouled going to the rim and hit one free throw. After some tough defensive by Tufts including blocks by Baptista and Briggs and a forced turnover, the Jumbos got the ball back with 51 seconds left in the game. They had a couple of chances separated by a team offensive rebound, but just weren't able to get a shot to fall. Tufts was then forced to foul giving Eck two shots at the free throw line and she made both. On their final possession, the Jumbos got off a couple desperation threes, but neither found the bottom of the net, sealing the game for Amherst.
Rebounding in the game was extremely even, with both teams grabbing 30. Mammoths had 20 turnovers to Tufts' 14, but they were a little more successful than the Jumbos from both the field and the free throw line to give them the victory.
Up next for both teams will be the NCAA tournament beginning this coming weekend. Amherst gets NESCAC's automatic berth and the Jumbos are a certainty as an at-large entry. Berths will be announced on NCAA.com at 2:30 p.m. ET on Monday.
Written by Curtis Stoychoff, Althetic Communications Intern