SCRANTON, Pa. – Tufts women's basketball (27-2) is set to travel to Scranton, Pennsylvania in the sectional weekend (Mar. 8-9) of the 2019 NCAA Division III Tournament, which is their eighth straight appearance into the second weekend of the Tournament. The Jumbos match-up Friday night will be against Messiah College (28-1) in the "Sweet 16" at 5 p.m. The brown and blue are a combined 14-0 in road and neutral site games this season.
The other "Sweet 16" game will be played at 7 p.m. between Scranton (27-2) out of the Landmark Conference and Newport University (25-5) from the Capital Athletic Conference. The winners of the "Sweet 16" games will meet on Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Scranton in the "Elite 8" game.
Head coach Carla Berube's Jumbos have been playing great basketball as they are winners of their past eight games and have only allowed over 60 points twice during that stretch. The Jumbos won the New England Small Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championship to earn an automatic-bid into the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The NESCAC title victory came over rival No. 1 Bowdoin by a 75-69 margin, marking the third conference championship in program history. Prior to the Bowdoin victory, Tufts also upset Amherst 47-46 with a game-winning jumper from first-year Jeanette Wadolowski. Those two victories were revenge games as those were the only two teams that defeated the Jumbos in the regular season.
The Jumbos heard their name on Selection Monday and found out they would play Western New England (20-9) in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament in the field of 64 teams. Tufts also found out they would be the Regional host for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. In the First Round game against Western New England, the Jumbos had a strong second half, led by 18 points from Wadolowski in their 70-44 win. Tufts also had senior co-captain Jac Knapp, junior co-captain Erica DeCandido, and sophomore Emily Briggs score in double-figures against the Golden Bears.
Tufts then advanced to the Second Round, where they hosted Haverford (22-7) after the Fords defeated Rosemont 80-37 in the First Round. In a match-up of teams that look to turn their defenses into offense, the Fords had a 38-37 lead going into the fourth as they looked to pull off the upset. The Jumbos went on to outscore Haverford 15-8 in the final frame to win 52-46, with their leaders DeCandido and Knapp netting 11 of their 15 points in the fourth. DeCandido scored a game-high 20 points and dished out five assists.
The Jumbos team identity is their defensive intensity and ability to make life difficult for the opposing team. Tufts holds teams to only 48.2 points per night, which ranks seventh in the country and is third among remaining teams in the field behind Amherst and Scranton. The brown and blue force 18.7 turnovers per game as they apply tenacious on-ball defense and often force opponents to only one shot per possession. Ryan leads the Jumbos with 1.9 steals and DeCandido pulls down a team-leading 5.6 rebounds per contest.
Knapp leads the Jumbos offense with 13.6 points per game on a team that averages 73.0 points per night. The senior co-captain has hit a team-leading 45 three-pointers so far this season. DeCandido has stepped up her game even more in March as she has averaged 16.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in Tufts two NCAA Tournament games. Briggs has been a reliable option in the Jumbo offense as she nets 9.6 points per night and stretches out the defense with her ability to shoot the basketball at a high rate. Wadolowski and fellow first-year Molly Ryan have proven to be reliable options for coach Berube as they average 7.7 and 6.9 points per game. Juniors Cailin Harrington and Sadie Otley, and first-year Sophia Rosa have also elevated their games and average over 4.0 points per contest. Berube stated, "I'm happy that we've had different players step up when we've needed them from our freshmen on up to our senior class."
Messiah, located in Grantham, Pa. comes into the "Sweet 16" looking to advance to their third "Final Four" in program history. The Falcons have won each of their past 28 games, led by a veteran team that features five seniors, and entered the NCAA Tournament after defeating Lycoming College 53-46 in the Middle Atlantic Conference Championship. Messiah also hosted the NCAA Regional games and started the NCAA Tournament with a 71-60 victory over Hilbert College, in which four players scored in double-figures. The Falcons then defeated Baldwin Wallace 64-51 in the Second Round led by 22 points from senior Maci Thornton. "They are a very well coached team. They are also disciplined defensively, they have strong back court play", added Berube about Messiah.
The Falcons offense averages 64.8 points per game led by Thornton, who scores 18.1 per night. Thornton has scored in double-figures in all 29 of Messiah's games and has dished out 73 assists on the year. Fellow senior Alecia Rohrer also has averaged double-digit points with 15.4 per game and shoots 47.8 percent from the floor. Rohrer is also active on the boards as she pulls down 13.3 rebounds per contest and has recorded 21 double-doubles this season. Messiah also gets over 7.0 points per game from seniors Kristen Smoluk and Becca Isaac, and first-year Eleana Eckley. Berube said this about Rohrer, "she's strong, she's got range on her shot, she's lethal inside, and is really tough on the boards. She's also a great shot blocker, so we have to be at our best."
The Falcons hold opponents to 51.0 points per night, which ranks 15th in the nation. Opponents only shoot 36.2 percent from the floor against Messiah as they get in your grill when you possess the ball. Like the Jumbos, they are opportunistic defensively and force 22.0 turnovers per night. Thornton leads the team with 92 steals and Rohrer has blocked 67 shots so far this season. "We will be facing a tremendous defense on Friday night. They make their opponents turn the ball over a lot, so we will need to execute well on the offensive end for us to be successful", stated Berube.
The Jumbos and Messiah met last season in the "Sweet 16" at Scranton, with Tufts winning 70-39. Knapp and DeCandido combined to score 39 points and each hit seven shots from the floor. Tufts defense held the Falcons to shoot only 20.9 percent from the field and forced 24 turnovers. Messiah is 2-1 against the Jumbos dating back to 1999.
Written By Athletic Communication Intern Bryan Costello