MEDFORD, Mass. – For the sixth consecutive season, the No. 4 Tufts University women's basketball team will be advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Tournament, as the Jumbos defeated Husson, 64-44, during second-round action at Cousens Gym on Saturday.
|Cailin Harrington played a pivotal role off the bench for the Jumbos.|
The Jumbos (27-2, 9-1 in NESCAC) took a 33-23 lead into intermission, and then put the game away by scoring 21 of the 25 points in the third quarter, including scoring the first 10 points of the frame.
"I thought tonight was a hard-fought victory," 15th-year head coach Carla Berube said. "I thought Husson came out really strong and took it to us in the first quarter. They got some real scrappy, tough kids that were making great plays. The way we came out in the third quarter was great. It has not been our best quarter in recent weekends. We came out of the locker room with that kind of fire and intensity, really got after it and did a better job containing them."
The Jumbos will take on No. 13/17 Scranton (26-3, 11-3 in Landmark Conference) in third-round action on Friday at Francis Fieldhouse in St. Louis, Missouri. The Jumbos defeated Scranton, 57-48, in the fourth round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
"We had a battle against them last year so I am really excited to play them again," senior captain Michela North said. "I am excited of showing the freshmen what the Sweet 16 is like and hopefully advancing from there."
Husson (23-5, 16-2 in NAC) sees its season come to end, as the squad posted the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament victory with a 74-72 triumph over DeSales on Friday in the first round. On Saturday, senior sharpshooter Darla Morales posted a game-high 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc and totaled a handful of rebounds. Senior guard Chandler Guerrette (seven points, five steals, three assists) and sophomore guard Kenzie Worcester (12 points, 6-for-7 from the charity stripe) also starred for the visitors.
North led the way for the Jumbos with 10 points and 13 rebounds, while sophomore guard Jac Knapp contributed with a team-high 13 points and junior forward Melissa Baptista posted nine points and seven rebounds.
The Jumbos controlled the paint all night, forcing the Eagles into contested shots, while holding a 44-23 advantage on the glass. The Jumbos also collected 20 offensive rebounds, with five coming from Baptista.
"We have been focusing on boxing out and rebounding a lot in the past week," North said. "We definitely went into the game focusing on that. When teams play zone, we definitely try to take advantage of the offensive rebounding and crashing the boards every time."
The Eagles were not intimidated by the big stage, as a 3-pointer by Morales evened the score, 8-8, with 7:02 remaining in the first. The Jumbos scored 11 of the next 13 points, as back-to-back free throws by junior captain and point guard Lauren Dillon gave the hosts a 19-10 lead with 2:02 on the clock. The Eagles cut the deficit to four heading into the second, behind a made free throw by freshman center Sami Ireland with 19 seconds on the clock.
The Jumbos lead ballooned to 12 on a 3-point shot by junior forward Jennie Mucciarone with 2:46 left in the half. Freshman guard Cailin Harrington, who has seen an increase in playing time during the stretch run of the season, made a textbook entry pass to North with 1:42 remaining, as North finished the layup and gave the hosts a 30-18 lead. Harrington stepped up and buried a trey with 1:03 remaining, and then Morales answered with a 3-pointer, trimming the Jumbos advantage to 33-23 heading into intermission.
"She has been doing a great job in practice and that should transfer into games," Berube said of Harrington. "She is deserving of those minutes, and she is making the most of them and doing a great job. She has got a high basketball IQ and is really coachable. I am excited that she is taking a step forward and making an impact on our team."
The first 3:20 of the second half was the pivotal stretch of the game, as the Jumbos opened up the third with a 10-0 spurt, prompting the Eagles to a call a 30-second timeout. Knapp scored six points during the spurt, and Baptista cashed in on a mid-range jumper with 6:40 left, giving the hosts a commanding 43-23 lead. The Jumbos scored 11 of the remaining 15 points in the frame, as the squad only gave up four points in the third, and took a 54-27 lead into the fourth.
The Jumbos attacked the hoop off the dribble well in the third and constantly made the extra pass to find open teammates, while the Jumbos' top-caliber, half-court defense was suffocating in the third, forcing the Eagles to shoot 1-for-10 from the floor. Husson fought to the final whistle and won the fourth, 17-10, but were not able to get closer than 16 points in the final period.
"We made a couple of adjustments on how we wanted to attack their zone in the third quarter," Berube said. "The team did a great job coming out of halftime and finding open players inside. It opened things on the outside, and then when they went to man-to-man defense that is when we really attacked off the dribble and started to make plays for each other."
Written by Trevor Wenners, Athletic Communications Intern