COLUMBUS, OHIO – The Tufts University Women's Basketball team will play in its first-ever NCAA Division III Championship game after the Jumbos led start-to-finish in a 63-50 victory over Wartburg in the semi-finals today.
The Jumbos advance to the 2016 NCAA Final to be played on Monday, April 4 in Indianapolis. They will face defending national champion Thomas More, who defeated Amherst 74-65 in the other NCAA semi-final on Saturday night.
Tufts held Wartburg scoreless in the first quarter and built a 14-0 lead, but had to hold off a second-half comeback by the Knights. Wartburg closed to within four points (47-43) before the Jumbos used a 10-2 run to seal the victory.
Sophomore guard Lauren Dillon played all 40 minutes and led the Jumbos with 19 points, shooting 5 for 7 on field goals including 3 for 4 on three-pointers. She nailed a three after Wartburg had narrowed the Tufts lead to four points, giving the Jumbos a 50-43 advantage with 4:31 on the fourth-quarter clock.
Back-to-back baskets by junior All-American Michela North extended the Tufts lead to 54-43 as the clock wound down under three minutes. Wartburg's Morgan Neuendorf (team-high 16 points) ended the 7-0 Tufts spurt, but the Jumbos got a free throw from Dillon and another basket by North to lead 57-45 with 1:18 remaining in regulation. North had seven of her 13 points in the fourth. Dillon drained five three throws in the final minute to close the victory.
Tufts held Wartburg to 0 for 11 shooting and six turnovers in the first quarter. The Jumbos weren't much more effective, but led 9-0 after the opening 10 minutes.
The Knights finally scored their first basket on a three-pointer by Miranda Murphy making it 14-3 at the eight-minute mark of the second quarter. However, the Jumbos would extend their lead to 23-5 when senior Maura Folliard hit her second bucket of the quarter at the 5:40 mark. A Dillon three gave Tufts a 26-7 lead, but the Knights scored eight of the final 10 points in the half and were down 13 (28-15) at the break. Neuendorf and had two of the late baskets for Wartburg.
Dillon had 10 points and Baptista scored eight for the Jumbos in the first half. Neuendorf led Wartburg with six.
Tufts maintained its double-digit lead into the third quarter. A pair of three-pointers by Baptista had the Jumbos up 37-23 at the five-minute mark.
The Knights chipped away, cutting the margin to 10 points (39-29) on a hoop by Neuendorf with 2:11 left in the third. A three-pointer by Kailey Kladivo made it a nine-point game (41-32) and the momentum had officially swung. The Tufts lead was nine (44-35) heading into the fourth.
Wartburg opened the scoring in the final quarter with a basket by Aryn Jones to pull within seven (44-37). After North made one of two free throws at the other end, Neuendorf scored and the Knights were down six at 45-39. Folliard answered for the Jumbos, but consecutive baskets by Jones and Kladivo had Wartburg within 47-43 at 4:49 of the fourth.
That's when Dillon hit her huge three, one of seven that Tufts had in the game. Baptisa was four for nine from distance for the Jumbos. Wartburg, one of the better three-point shooting teams in the nation, made just three of 12 in the game.
Tufts' Baptista finished with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds while also blocking four shots and making five steals. North also double-doubled with 13 and 10. Junior Josie Lee led Tufts with five assists and also came down with six rebounds and scored four points.
Tufts didn't help itself at the free throw line, making just 14 of 24 (58.3 percent).
Neuendorf (7 for 13 FGs) added six rebounds and two steals to her game for Wartburg. Jones had 11 points and eight rebounds for the Knights, who finished the game shooting 34 percent (18/53) with 18 turnovers. Murphy scored nine points and Katie Sommer made five steals and grabbed seven rebounds.
Tufts (28-3), making its third straight appearance in the "Final Four," earned its first semi-final victory. Winners of five NCAA games this season, the Jumbos are now 22-9 in their ninth NCAA berth. Today's win was the 300th of Jumbo head coach Carla Berube's career.
Wartburg's season came to an end with a 23-8 record.
Game Photos by Eric Kelley / D3photography.com