Championship Dreams Dashed
The emotions were raw and the disappointment palpable as the Tufts women’s basketball team fell short, for the second year in a row, in its quest for a national championship. Top-ranked Amherst College held the Jumbos to two points in the opening 17:35 of the game en route to a 52-29 victory in the NCAA Division III Championship March 18 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“We did not come out of the gate very well,” head coach Carla Berube said. “We did not make shots. We give a ton of credit to Amherst. They are the No. 1 team for a reason. There is a reason that they beat us twice during the season, and they were the better team tonight. We had trouble getting things going offensively, and they were making plays on both ends of the floor.”
Amherst was led by the Doswell sisters: Ali dropped in a game-high 21 points along with five rebounds and four steals, while her twin, Meredith, tallied 10 points and nine rebounds. The national title is the second in program history for Amherst, which capped off an undefeated season (33-0).
The Jumbos finished their season with a 30-3 record; the 30 wins are tied for the most in program history. The squad has made four consecutive appearances in the Final Four of the NCAA Division III Tournament.
“These last four years have been incredible,” senior co-captain Josie Lee said. “Year by year, it is a new group, and every year it is a little different, but always the same intensity and the same attitude that we are going to be contending for the national championship and we want to make the Final Four. Each year, we are ready to compete no matter who we are playing, what game it is or what round it is. I could not be prouder. We have had a great run for the past four years.”
Tufts punched its ticket to the 2017 national championship game with a furious comeback in Final Four action on March 17 against the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota). The Jumbos overcame a 12-point deficit with 5:30 left for a 60-57 win.
Senior co-captain Michela North, who finishes her career as the Jumbos’ all-time leading scorer (1,568 points) and rebounder (1,071 rebounds), posted her 15th career double-double in the national tournament with 14 points and 10 rebounds, going 6-for-11 from the floor.
Amherst, which ranks No. 1 in scoring defense (40.0 points) among all Division III institutions in the nation, came out of the gate playing a stifling brand of defense, while coming up with some timely baskets early in the contest. Neither team could get into any kind of rhythm in the opening minutes, but Ali Doswell put Amherst on the board with a drop step out of the post with 6:03 left in the first.
Meredith Doswell then buried a trey from the top of the arc, giving her squad a 5-0 lead with 4:46 left. Freshman guard/forward Erica DeCandido put the Jumbos on the scoreboard, converting a layup off a drive through the lane with 2:21 left. A fade-away jumper by Ali Doswell sent Amherst into the second frame with a 7-2 lead.
Amherst dictated the pace of the game throughout the second frame. The squad played a flawless brand of half-court defense, making the Jumbos work for every shot while boxing out on every shot attempt. The attention to detail resulted in Amherst scoring the first 11 points of the frame.
Ali Doswell, who was named the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division III Player of the Year and NESCAC Player of the Year, gave her group an 18-2 lead with 4:28 left in the half, as she buried a trey from a few feet beyond the arc. North scored a couple late baskets, as Amherst took a 20-6 lead into halftime.
The Jumbos went 3-for-19 from the field and 0-for-6 from downtown in the first half, while Amherst went 9-for-21 from the floor and 2-for-6 from 3-point range.
The Jumbos were by no means out of the game heading into the second half, especially on the heels of their epic comeback on Friday in the same arena.
Junior forward Melissa Baptista buried a 3-pointer from the top of the circle 1:08 into the third. Sophomore Jac Knapp hit a floater 38 seconds later, and North hit a short jumper from the right baseline with 7:21 remaining, as the Jumbos’ 7-0 spurt trimmed the deficit to 20-13. Amherst guard/forward Emma McCarthy cashed in on a pair of free throws, but North continued to work in the low post, cashing in on a turnaround jumper off the glass, cutting the deficit to 22-15 with 6:41 on the clock.
“In the second half, we came out with a lot more energy,” North said. “In the locker room, we talked about how we came back from a deficit last night, and so we knew it was possible to come back from any deficit after the half. We wanted to come out and make it a game, focusing on our defense first and then turning that into offense, while looking to the post more, moving the ball faster and using pass fakes. Things started working in the third quarter for us, but then we let up on defense again, and they extended their lead even further.”
Amherst was able to force the Jumbos into the penalty, as McCarthy scored three more points from the line, and then, with 52 seconds remaining in the frame, Meredith Doswell connected on a three-ball from straight away, giving Amherst a 13-point lead at 32-19.
The Jumbos trailed by 11 points entering the fourth quarter and were unable to cut into the lead, as Amherst continued to get to the foul line. With Saturday’s win, Amherst has defeated the Jumbos in four consecutive games, dating back to the 2016 NESCAC final at Cousens Gym. The previous four meetings between these two rivals were decided by four points or less, three of them one-point games.
The Jumbos went 11-for-45 from the field (24.4 percent), 1-for-17 from the 3-point line (5.9 percent) and 6-for-8 from the charity stripe (75.0 percent), while Amherst finished 15-for-37 from the floor (40.5 percent), 3-for-7 from beyond the arc (42.9 percent) and 19-for-24 from the foul line (79.2 percent).
Berube said that this Tufts team is “not defined by the score on the scoreboard at the end of the game. We are defined by the group that we are and the team we became this year. I told them that it was one of the tightest teams that I have ever been a part of, and so that is what we are thinking about and focusing on.”
Trevor Wenners, an intern for Tufts Athletics, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.