Hooping It Up

Tufts earns its first NESCAC women’s basketball title with win over Amherst

victory celebration after game

The Tufts University women’s basketball team won its first-ever New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) championship with a 62–46 victory over Amherst College at Cousens Gym on March 2. Junior Hayley Kanner scored 21 points to lead the conference champs.

Tufts trailed 5–0 early in the game, but erased that deficit and led for the final 31 minutes of play. Kanner and first-year Michela North were too much for Amherst to handle under the basket. North added 10 points and 14 rebounds off the bench. Junior point guard Kelsey Morehead played all 40 minutes, scoring 10 points, and senior tri-captain Liz Moynihan also finished with 10.

The Jumbos (26–1) matched the school record for victories, tying the 2007–08 team that finished 26–4. Tufts earns the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA Championship field, and will play St. Joseph's College of Maine at Cousens on March 7 at 8 p.m.

“It was just an awesome game. I couldn’t be more proud of the team,” said head coach Carla Berube. “Our first NESCAC championship feels really, really great.”

Amherst (24–3), led by 15 points from Marley Giddins, saw its streak of four consecutive conference titles end. The Lord Jeffs were playing in the NESCAC final for the seventh straight year. They will likely earn an at-large berth into the NCAAs.

“We did a really good job of knowing Amherst and focusing on how we were going to defend against them,” said Berube. “They have a lot of weapons, a lot of great shooters, some gritty players, and we came into the game knowing what we wanted to do. We executed it pretty well.”

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Watch a slideshow of the women’s basketball championship game. Photos: Kelvin Ma

The Lord Jeffs scored the game’s first five points, including a three by Cheyenne Pritchard. Tufts tied the game at 8–8 on a North layup at 13:02 and never trailed again. A pair of free throws by Giddins knotted the score at 10–10 at the 11-minute mark.

Tufts scored the next nine points to open a 19–10 advantage with 6:21 remaining until halftime. Kanner netted a rare three-pointer and two free throws during the stretch. A free throw by Giddins ended a drought of five-plus minutes without scoring by Amherst.

Despite shooting just 18.2 percent (4/22) in the first half, the Lord Jeffs hung around. They were within six points three times in the final five minutes of the half, including 27–21 after a pair of Hannah Peterson free throws at 2:06.

Tufts held a 29–22 lead at the half, shooting just 29 percent (9/31) themselves. Kanner had 11 points at the break for the Jumbos, and Giddins led Amherst with nine.

Kanner scored the first two baskets of the second half for Tufts, giving the hosts a 33–22 advantage. A Peterson three-pointer got Amherst within eight points, but the Jumbos retaliated with the next four to lead 37–25 on an Ali Rocchi basket at 17:30.

The Jumbos were up by 13 (46–33) when the clock wound down to under 10 minutes to go in regulation. Amherst clawed back to within eight at 50–42 following an Ali Doswell free throw with 4:41 remaining. She had four points during the 7–2 spurt by the Lord Jeffs.

Tufts had an answer though, and it was Kanner scoring the 20th and 21st points of her game on a layup to give Tufts a 52–42 advantage at 4:41. Amherst turned the ball over on its next possession, and the Jumbos led by double digits the rest of the way.

“I thought our big players inside, Hayley [Kanner] and Michela [North], worked really, really hard, and then our perimeter players did a good job of finding them,” Berube said. “And Kelsey [Morehead] again just ran the show. She made some huge plays, huge steals in big situations. It was just a great team effort.”

The Tufts defense was key again, holding Amherst to 12 of 42 shooting (28.6 percent) overall. Tufts was plus four in rebounds, with junior Hannah Foley adding five to go with seven points, two assists and two steals. Moynihan led with four assists.

Peterson added 10 points to the Amherst offense, while Haley Zwecker finished with nine.

Tufts had earned its first victory against the Lord Jeffs since Jan. 12, 2007, back on Jan. 17 this year in a 58–53 final at Cousens. The teams faced each other in the conference final for the third time, with Amherst winning in 2012 and 2008. This was the Jumbos’ fourth appearance in the NESCAC championship game.

The Jumbos are ready to play in the NCAAs, which begin on Friday. “It’s exciting—now it’s one and done,” says Berube. “We’ve got to really prepare and work hard this week to get ready for whoever it is.”

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

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