On to the Final Four
In a game that wasn’t decided until the final tenths of a second, the Tufts University women’s basketball team earned its first-ever trip to the NCAA Division III Championship semifinals with an exhilarating 61–59 victory over a never-say-die Ithaca College squad March 15 at Cousens Gym.
Tufts led 58–50 with 1:16 remaining, and then had to withstand three three-pointers by Ithaca in the final 64 seconds and a last-second drive to the basket by the Bombers that bounced off the rim.
The Jumbos (30–1) will play Fairleigh Dickinson University at Florham in the NCAA semifinals at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point this Friday, March 21. Tufts was led by junior Hayley Kanner, who had 18 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and four assists.
“We’re thrilled, excited and in awe still,” head coach Carla Berube said after the game. “We knew going into it that it was going to be a hard-fought game, and we feel lucky that we came out on top again.”
Ithaca, narrowly missing a chance to send the game to overtime, finished its season at 26–5. The Bombers, who were making their first appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals, got 21 points from senior Kathryn Campbell.
The visitors opened strong, as Ithaca took an 11–5 lead on a jumper by junior Geena Brady five minutes into the action. The Jumbos erased the lead quickly with a 9–0 run, including six points by Kanner for a 14–11 Tufts lead. That exchange would set the tone for a tightly contested first half.
The only two times the margin went beyond one possession in the final 11 minutes of the first half came on three-pointers by Mary Kate Tierney that gave Ithaca leads of 21–16 and 26–21. However, Tufts answered both times on their next trip down the floor, and the Jumbos led 32–30 at the break.
Kanner had 14 of Tufts’ points at halftime, shooting seven of 12 and adding five rebounds and blocking two shots. She was nearly matched by Tierney, whose three three-pointers in the first half helped her score 11 points.
The Jumbos looked to be pulling away as the second half wore on. Their lead was just two (39–37) after two free throws by Ithaca’s Brady at 16:20, but first-year Michaela North scored the next six points unanswered, and the Jumbos led 45–37 at the 13-minute mark.
Both teams stalled offensively as the clock wound down under 10 minutes, but Tufts built its advantage to double figures when a three-pointer by senior Liz Moynihan made it 52–42 with six minutes left in regulation.
Campbell stepped up for the Bombers and hit huge back-to-back threes, cutting the difference down to four (52–48), with three minutes on the clock. The Jumbos would get six of the next eight points, led by four from junior Kelsey Morehead, for the 58–50 lead at 1:16.
Campbell drained another three, her fifth of the game, and it was 58–53 as regulation entered its final minute. Tufts couldn’t put the win away at the free-throw line, and Ithaca took advantage. A trifecta from senior Jenn Escobido with 19 seconds left turned it into a one-possession game at 59–56.
A third last-minute three by Tierney with eight seconds on the clock brought it down to a one-point lead for Tufts at 60–59. After Moynihan made one of two at the line for the Jumbos at 0:07, Ithaca’s Ali Ricchiuti incredibly drove to the hoop and attempted a reverse lay-up that did not fall. North grabbed the rebound, giving Tufts the win.
“I could not be prouder of our team," said Moynihan. “It’s been an amazing season.”
Kanner and North (11 points, 7 rebounds) gave the Jumbos a huge advantage in the paint, where they outscored the Bombers 32–12. Morehead finished with 14 points and three assists, while Moyihan had 10 points, including three made threes.
Campbell was good on eight of 14 shots, including five for six on threes, for her 21 points. Tierney once again filled the stat sheet with 16 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Escobido recorded nine points, eight rebounds and two assists. The Bombers hit 10 of 18 three-pointers overall (55.6 percent) and outrebounded Tufts 41–30.
Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com.