INDIANAPOLIS – With the game tied 49-49 in the middle of the fourth quarter, Thomas More College scored the next 10 points and went on to win their second straight NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship with a 63-51 win over Tufts Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Jumbos came back from a 10-point (42-32) deficit in the third quarter to tie the game at 49-49 on a pair of free throws from sophomore guard Lauren Dillon at 6:28 of the fourth. However, they would go into a scoring drought lasting almost five minutes as the Saints pulled away.
Post-Game Press Conferences
"I think my team battled," head coach Carla Berube said. "We made it a game in the fourth quarter by making plays and just playing tough basketball the way we have all season. And then down the stretch, Thomas More made the big plays. They've got big-time players, and I think it was some of their so-called non-stars that really shined."
NCAA Tournament MVP and National Player of the Year Sydney Moss broke the tie with a lay-up which initiated the 10-point spurt. Alexa Santamaria added a lay-up, Madison Temple hit a three-pointer, and the Saints added three free throws before Tufts stopped the run with a Michella Wu basket at 1:44. With the Jumbos down 59-51, Abby Owings and Temple iced the win with free throws.
Thomas More finished with a perfect 33-0 record and improved their winning streak to 66 games. Owings led four Saints who scored in double figures with 17 points, while Moss added 14, Nikki Kiernan finished with 13, and Temple had 10.
Tufts, playing in its first NCAA final, 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 nine points off the bench.
Thomas More led 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. Tufts made 8 of 15 shots and led 17-11 at the first intermission. Dillon, Michelle Wu, and Josie Lee all had four points. Moss paced TMC with six.
The Saints turned the game around in the second quarter. They out-scored the Jumbos 21-9 as Tufts went cold, shooting just 4 for 17 (23.5 percent) in the second quarter. An early 9-2 run led by Moss' five points 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 three and made a lay-up in the final minute helping the Jumbos stay within six (32-26) at the half. Owings scored seven points in the second period for Thomas More.
"We came out with a lot of energy in the first quarter," North said. "We had a 17-11 lead. We would have liked to push that. But they kindo f crawled their way back, kept scoring, we couldn't really get a stop for a while. And they just go on runs. They're an emotional team. They had a huge fan baseh ere cheering them on. And that's what they play off of."
After Tufts closed within four early in the third, a jumper by Santamaria at 6:07 capped an 8-2 stretch that gave Thomas More 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 three-pointer and the Jumbos trailed just 47-45. Kiernan answered at the other end for the Saints, but Folliard added another jumper and the Dillon's two free throws tied the game.
The Jumbos couldn't finish off the comeback though. They were 1 for 8 with four turnovers during one five-minute stretch late in the game.
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 quarter. The Jumbos were out-scored 17-4 at the free throw line as Thomas More attempted 24 foul shots to seven for Tufts.
Thomas More finished with a healthy 48-37 lead in rebounding, including 14 on the offensive side. They scored 20 second-chance points. Moss, Kiernan, and Temple led with nine each and Olivia Huber grabbed eight. Temple and Moss both had four assists.
The Jumbos received good production from their bench with Folliard, Wu (eight points) and Hicks making key contributions. Dillon and Emma Roberson both had four assists while Lee grabbed seven rebounds.
Tufts has been in Indianapolis since Friday as the NCAA celebrated the 35th anniversary of the women's basketball championship by hosting the Division I "Final Four" and Division II and III championships at the same site. Though they would have liked to cap the weekend with a win, it's something they'll never forget as well motivation for the team in the future.
"This has been an absolutely amazing experience," Folliard said. "We can't thank the NCAA enough for everything they've done for us. Treating us like we're absolute queens.
"I think for the underclassmen it really gives them motivation to keep doing well in the tournament as time goes on," she continued. "And as a senior, with Emma Roberson, Nicole Brooks, and Michelle Wu, we had to give it our all the entire tournament and just work as hard as we could so we could hopefully inspire our underclassmen to keep doing the same in the years to come."
The NCAA Division II Championship Game between Lubbock Christian and Alaska-Anchorage was played before the DIII game. Attendance for the two games was 6,403.
Game Photos by Alonso Nichols / Tufts