Jumbos’ NCAA Quest Falls Short

In their first national title game, women’s basketball gets close, but falls to the defending champion
Watch a slideshow from the NCAA championship game. Photo: Alonso Nichols
April 6, 2016

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In their first NCAA championship final, the Tufts women’s basketball team tied the game 49-49 in the middle of the fourth quarter, but were unable to sustain that momentum in the final minutes. The undefeated defending national champion, Thomas More College, went on to win its second straight NCAA Division III title 63-51 on April 4.

The Jumbos had come back from a 10-point deficit (42-32) in the third quarter to tie the game at 49-49 on a pair of free throws by sophomore guard Lauren Dillon at 6:28 of the fourth. After that, the Jumbos went into a scoring drought that lasted nearly five minutes, allowing the Saints to pull away.

Tufts finished the season with a 28-4 mark. They were led by 10 points and 15 rebounds from junior Michela North. Senior Maura Folliard tallied 9 points off the bench.

“We made it a game in the fourth quarter by making plays and just playing tough basketball the way we have all season,” head coach Carla Berube said. “And then down the stretch, Thomas More made the big plays.”

NCAA Tournament MVP and National Player of the Year Sydney Moss broke the 49-49 tie with a lay-up that initiated a 10-point spurt by Thomas More. The Saints finished the season with a perfect 33-0 record and improved their winning streak to 66 games.

Thomas More leads the nation in scoring offense at 92.2 points per game, but the Jumbos held them to 3 for 15 shooting (0-4 on threes) and 11 points in the first quarter. The Jumbos made 8 of 15 shots and led 17-11 at the first intermission. Lauren Dillon, Michelle Wu and Josie Lee all had 4 points.

But the Saints turned the game around in the second quarter. They out-scored the Jumbos 21-9 as Tufts went cold, shooting just 4-17 (23.5 percent) in the second quarter. An early 9-2 run gave the Saints a 20-19 lead at the 6:12 mark. They pushed it to as many as eight (29-21), but Tufts’ Katy Hicks hit a 3-pointer and made a lay-up in the final minute, helping the Jumbos stay within 6 (32-26) at the half.

After Tufts closed within 4 early in the third, Thomas More went on an 8-2 stretch, building its largest lead of the game at 42-32. Behind All-American Michela North, who had 10 third-quarter points, Tufts fought back and narrowed the margin to five (47-42) heading into the fourth. North grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back with one second remaining in the period.

Folliard, who hit two key jumpers in the third, opened fourth-quarter scoring with a 3-pointer, and the Jumbos trailed just 47-45. Kiernan answered at the other end for the Saints, but Folliard added another jumper, and Dillon’s two free throws tied the game.

The Jumbos couldn’t finish off the comeback—they were 1 for 8 with four turnovers during one five-minute stretch.

Tufts played most of the game with sophomore Melissa Baptista in foul trouble. She and Lee both had four fouls in the third quarter, and Baptista fouled out with 5:09 remaining in the fourth. The Jumbos were outscored 17-4 at the free-throw line, as Thomas More attempted 24 foul shots to seven for Tufts.

“To make it to the final game this year has been amazing,” said Wu. “I just love this team so much, and I’m just so proud of them.”

Sports Information Director Paul Sweeney can be reached at paul.sweeney@tufts.edu.