Headed to the Final Four
The Tufts women’s basketball team earned a return trip to the NCAA Championship Final Four with a 58–52 victory over defending national champion FDU-Florham in the quarterfinals on March 14 at Cousens Gymnasium.
The Jumbos (30–1) were led by 14 points and four assists from first-year guard Lauren Dillon, 13 points and 10 rebounds from senior tri-captain Hayley Kanner and sophomore Michela North’s 10 points and 11 rebounds. The Jumbos outscored the Devils 30–22 in the second half for the victory.
Tufts will travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan, this week to face Thomas More College (31–0) in the national semifinals on March 20 at Calvin College’s Van Noord Arena.
Saturday’s game matched FDU-Florham’s fourth-ranked offense against Tufts’ number-one-ranked defense. After the Devils shot 50 percent in the first half to take a 30–28 lead at the break, the Jumbos held them to just 21.9 percent in the second half, taking a lead they did not relinquish in the final nine minutes. FDU-Florham’s 52 points were more than 30 below its season average.
The first nine minutes of the second half were a one-possession game until Florham took a 40–36 advantage on a pair of free throws by senior Kyra Dayon. Tufts turned the game around with an 11–2 run over the next four minutes to build its lead to 47–42. A three-pointer by senior Kelsey Morehead and four points from Dillon led the charge.
FDU pulled within one, 49–48, following a jumper by junior Alicia Cox with 5:27 on the clock. Then they descended into a shooting funk against the Jumbo defense. The Devils made just one of their last 11 field-goal attempts in the final five minutes, including nine straight misses.
A three by Dillon put Tufts up 54–48 with 3:34 remaining, the largest lead by either team since early in the first half. Junior Shalette Brown hit a pair of free throws for the Devils, cutting the margin to 54–50 at 2:44. A layup by Jumbo junior Emma Roberson and a Kanner free throw sandwiched around two misses and a turnover by FDU put the Tufts lead at 57–50 with less than a minute to go. The Jumbos were soon celebrating their second straight Final Four trip.
Roberson was a factor for the Jumbos with seven points, five assists and four rebounds. Morehead contributed eight points, including a pair of threes, as Tufts made six of 13 from beyond the arc (46.2 percent). Dillon was three for four from deep. The Jumbos were plus nine in rebounds (42–33).
The game was a rematch of last season’s NCAA semifinal, which FDU-Florham won 42–39. The Devils went on to win the 2014 NCAA title.
The Jumbos are now 17–7 overall in NCAA play and the winners of 12 straight NCAA games on their home court.
The Weekend’s First Win
The day before, on March 13, the Jumbos notched a 46–31 victory against Eastern Connecticut State University in the third round of the NCAA championships at Cousens Gym. Always strong on defense, they surrendered just 11 points to the Warriors in the first half. The visitors made only 10 of 58 shots in the game (17.2 percent), including an 8.7 percent mark (2/23) in the first half.
North led Tufts against Eastern with 15 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. She made seven of 12 shots. No one else in the game scored in double digits. Seniors Shannon McCourt and Kristina Forsman both had nine points and seven rebounds for the Warriors.
After their awful first half, Eastern Connecticut made a run to start the second. McCourt led the charge with three unanswered baskets to put the Warriors ahead 20–17 three minutes into the half. However, a trio of North layups and a three-pointer by junior Josie Lee gave Tufts a 31–19 lead with 12 minutes remaining.
The Tufts lead got up to 20 (42–22), and the Warriors whittled that down to 13 (44–31), but with just 1:32 remaining, the Jumbos cruised to the win.
Kanner finished with nine points, eight rebounds, four assists and four blocks for the Jumbos. Tufts blocked 12 shots overall. Lee was a spark with eight points, six rebounds and four assists.
Tufts Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.