Women's Basketball Advances to 6th Straight NCAA Elite Eight with Victory Over Messiah

SCRANTON, Pa. – In a battle of two of the top defenses in the country, Tufts Women's Basketball used a strong second half to punch their ticket into the "Elite Eight" with a 55-41 victory over Messiah on Friday night at the John Long Center on the campus of the University of Scranton in an NCAA "Sweet 16" match-up.

Cailin Harrington netted 14 points, including three three-pointers

With the win, Tufts improves to 28-2 overall and records their 33rd NCAA Tournament victory in program history. Messiah, who ends their season with a 28-2 record, fell to Tufts for the second season in a row in the Sweet 16. The Jumbos' next game will be Saturday night at the John Long Center against host Scranton, who defeated Christopher Newport 57-56 in tonight's other Sweet 16 game. Tufts is in the Elite Eight for the sixth straight year and seventh time overall.

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With the Jumbos leading 26-22 entering the third quarter, Messiah first-year Megan Zimmerman hit a layup to get the Falcons within two points. However, over the next four minutes the Jumbos held Messiah scoreless and ran off nine unanswered points. Tufts first-year Molly Ryan stepped up by netting the team's first five points of the third with a layup and a three-pointer. The Jumbos' sophomore Emily Briggs and junior co-captain Erica DeCandido each connected on a basket during the run. Tufts led by 11, 35-24, at the six-minute mark of the third.

The Falcons' season-leading scorer, senior Maci Thornton, hit a pair of foul shots to end the Jumbo run. Fellow senior Alecia Rohrer, who averaged a double-double entering the game, hit a jumper to get Messiah within eight (36-28). In the final two minutes of the quarter, the Jumbos went on a 7-2 spurt led by a three-pointer from senior co-captain Jac Knapp, a layup from senior Katie Martensen, and two DeCandido free throws to take a 43-30 lead at the end of the third. The Jumbos outscored the Falcons 17-8 in the third quarter overall.

To open the fourth, Jumbo junior Cailin Harrington continued to be aggressive on the offensive end and made a layup putting the Tufts margin at 15 (45-30). Over the next two minutes, the Falcons went on a 6-2 run led by four points from Thornton off a pair of foul shots and a jumper that pulled them within 47-36. DeCandido converted another layup before Thornton hit a three to get Messiah within 10 points (49-39).

Ryan then came down the floor two possessions later and answered with a three of her own. Tufts' defense stepped up and held the Falcons scoreless for the next three minutes after the Thornton three. Over the final 2:06 of the game, Harington and Otley combined for three free throws and Thornton hit another layup as the Jumbos closed out the victory. 

DeCandido found her shot right off the bat as she netted the Jumbos' first five points over a two-minute span. Messiah senior Kristen Smoluk scored a jumper over that stretch to get the Falcons on the board. Rohrer and Thornton then tallied all seven points during a 7-0 run within three minutes. Thornton connected on a three-pointer and a layup while Rohrer also made a layup giving Messiah an early 9-5 advantage. Over the final three minutes of the first, the Jumbos held the Falcons to only one field goal and scored on baskets by DeCandido, Martensen and first-year Janette Wadolowski for a 13-13 tie after one.

Wadolowski and Smoluk traded baskets in the first two minutes of action to begin the second quarter. Both teams continued to play tight defense as over a four-minute span in the middle of the quarter there was only a combined eight points. During that stretch, Harrington had the hot hand as she connected on a pair of three-pointers to give the Jumbos a 21-17 edge. Messiah senior Becca Isaac hit a three to get the Falcons within one, but Harrington came right back with another three. Over the final 2:54 of the second, Tufts first-year Sofia Rosa and Thornton scored the only four points as the Jumbos took the 26-22 lead into the locker room.

For the game, Tufts shot 18-52 and the Falcons were 15-51 from the floor. The Jumbos were +13 in rebounds, grabbing 42 against Messiah's 29. Tufts had 12 assists and the Falcons recorded eight, and there were a combined 28 turnovers in the contest (16 by Tufts). There were four ties and five lead changes.

DeCandido netted a team-high 15 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for a double-double. Harrington was also in double-figures with 14 points and hit three three-pointers in the game. Ryan had a good all-around game with eight points and five rebounds. DeCandido also recorded a team-leading four assists. Nine Jumbos scored in the game.

Thornton scored a game-high 20 points and shot an efficient 7-14 from the field for Messiah. Smoluk was second on the team with eight points and dished out two assists. Rohrer grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and chipped in four points. Six Falcons scored in the contest.

Messiah had come into the Sweet 16 with a 28-game winning streak. Tufts will be attempting to move on to their fifth Final Four. In other Sweet 16 action among NESCAC teams, Bowdoin moved on with an 81-50 win over New Paltz and Amherst's season ended in a 61-58 overtime loss at St. Thomas.


Written By Athletic Communications Intern Bryan Costello