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Women's Basketball | Tufts routs Middlebury 70-44 in first NESCAC battle

Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 08:01

In its first NESCAC matchup of the season on Sunday, the No. 7 ranked women’s basketball team routed Middlebury, 70-44, extending its winning streak to twelve games to start the year.

Last year, in what was the program’s most successful season to date, the Jumbos posted 22 straight victories to open the season en route to a 25-3 overall record. This year’s squad seems intent on matching -— if not surpassing — that team’s success. 

Middlebury, also playing its first conference game of the year Sunday, came out fighting in the early going, going toe-to-toe with Tufts for much of the first half. With 4:01 remaining in the opening frame, Tufts held on to a slim 21-19 advantage. But the Jumbos picked up the defensive intensity in the waning minutes of the period and burst out for an 11-2 run to make it 32-21 heading into the second half.  

“We always expect tough competition with the NESCAC,” senior tri-captain forward Ali Rocchi said. “There’s higher stakes when you think about NESCAC games, and it brings out the most intensity and competition, which is always fun.”

The late-first half burst seemed to deflate the Panthers, who were outscored by 15 the rest of the way and held to just 33.3 percent shooting on their home floor. Up by 10 with just under 16 minutes left in the game, the Jumbos rattled off a 16-2 run to seal their first conference victory of the year. 

A balanced attack from the Jumbos proved too much to handle for the Panthers, who were simply outmatched in the second half. Freshman center Michela North continued her outstanding rookie campaign with 11 points in just 15 minutes off the bench, while junior center Hayley Kanner tallied eight points and dished out a game-high seven assists. Senior guards Caitlin McClure and Liz Moynihan added eight points apiece.

  The 26-point victory was Tufts’ third largest margin this season, evidence of the team’s commanding performance thus far. In fact, the Jumbos have won their last ten contests by an average of 24.5 points, defeating all opponents over that span by at least 15 points.

“We always say that once you get to this middle part of the season, it’s like a whole new year,” Moynihan said. “When it comes to the NESCAC, anybody can beat anybody, so we have to be prepared game in and game out, and we expect tough competition from all of our opponents.” 

While this year’s Jumbos are without last year’s leader in assists and second-place scorer Kate Barnosky, a current second-year graduate student and assistant coach for the Jumbos, Tufts has managed to keep up its strong attack through balance and depth. Six players average six or more points per game, as Kanner and junior Hannah Foley lead the way with 11.7 and 10.8 points per game, respectively. North has provided vital minutes off the bench and produced at an astounding pace for a rookie, averaging nine points and over seven rebounds per game to go along with 15 total blocks on the season. 

“Each year I’ve been on this team it’s been a different dynamic,” Moynihan said. “Losing Kate and Bre [Dufault (LA ‘13)] hurt, but we have some freshmen that are really stepping up. I think what’s unique about this year is that each player is contributing and bringing what they’re really good at.”

With the first NESCAC victory under its belt, Tufts will face its toughest test of the year when they return to action Friday at home to take on third-ranked Amherst. The 13-0 Lord Jeffs boast the NESCAC’s only other undefeated record, and are coming off consecutive double-digit victories over conference foes Hamilton and Williams. The Jumbos hope the home crowd energy might help spur them to victory.

“We’re excited to be playing on our home floor,” Rocchi said. “Amherst is a really good team, so there’s definitely a target on their back. We want to come out strong against them. I haven’t beat them in my three years so there’s a definite sense of importance.”

“Any time we have a tough game it’s good to play at home,” Moynihan added. “Being on our home court will be good for us: familiar hoops, familiar court. We try to approach every game like it’s the most important one. Amherst is our next game and we’re looking forward to it. If we play well, it should be a good game.”

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