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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Women's Basketball | Jumbos salvage NESCAC split after suffering first loss to Amherst

The women's basketball team lost its perfect season Friday in a matter of 2.4 seconds.

Amherst sophomore forward Samantha Swensen converted on a game-winning lay-up as time expired to deal the Jumbos a gut-wrenching, 64-62 setback and earn the Jeffs a victory in the highly-anticipated matchup of the NESCAC's two unbeatens at Cousens Gym.

But less than 24 hours after suffering its first loss of the season, Tufts bounced back, salvaging a split of its first weekend of NESCAC play by trouncing Trinity, 74-52 on Saturday.

With 2.4 seconds showing on the clock and the score in its ninth tie of the game, Swensen won a battle for the inbounds pass and saw a wide-open path to the basket before converting the winning lay-up as the final horn sounded. The bucket was Swensen's second game-clinching buzzer-beater of the season and improved nationally-ranked No. 22 Amherst's record to 15-0.

"It was an extremely disappointing loss," junior center Katie Tausanovitch said. "The whole team was just ripped up and emotional because we knew it meant a lot. It meant we started off in conference 0-1, it meant Amherst was still undefeated, and it meant we had a loss on our record in what could have been a fantastic, undefeated season."

After trailing for the first three quarters of the game, the Jumbos took their first lead with 6:50 remaining in the second half on a bucket by sophomore guard Casey Sullivan. Tufts built the lead to five with 2:14 left and had its chances to put the game away.

But the Jumbos faltered down the stretch, and with the score knotted at 62 in the final seconds, a missed layup by senior co-captain Khalilah Ummah and a turnover by freshman guard Colleen Hart gave the Jeffs a chance at one last shot.

"Those games come down to who can make the final few plays, and Amherst did that," coach Carla Berube said. "I thought we had a decent look on our last shot, and we just missed it. It was tough, but give Amherst a lot of credit because they came out and played really good defense on us and took away what we wanted to do."

The Jumbos struggled on the defensive end to stop a Jeffs team that came into the game with the second-best field goal percentage in all of Div. III. After holding all of its previous opponents to under 45 percent shooting, Tufts allowed Amherst to shoot 52 percent from the floor Friday night.

"Defensively, we weren't communicating," Tausanovitch said. "We never at any point in the game really repaired that, and they kept scoring. It's frustrating and demoralizing when you allow a team to score like that continuously. To our credit, we kept playing and we kept fighting, so that's a positive, but those huge defensive mistakes, particularly early in the game, were just killers."

The next afternoon, the Jumbos showed little signs of a hangover, beating Trinity by 22 points to end the weekend at 1-1 in NESCAC play and 13-1 overall.

"We only had to sit on the Amherst loss for 18 hours," Tausanovitch said. "People were counting down, and everybody knew it was only 18 hours that we were losers. We were lucky and happy to have this opportunity to come out [Saturday] because that feeling of a heartbreaking, last-second loss is one of the worst feelings there is. Winning, and winning big, was a positive thing."

"We had to move forward because every game in the NESCAC is a battle," Berube added. "You can't mull over a loss like that because there's going to be another loss right ahead of you. The league is too good to do that. It was great that we could come [Saturday] morning, shoot around, talk about our next opponent and forget about the Amherst loss."

Tufts took control against Trinity early, putting up 49 first-half points on a blistering 57.5 percent from the field, both of which were highs for any half this season. The Jumbos took a 22-point lead into halftime and built the cushion as high as 33 in the second half before taking home its fifth 20-point victory of the season.

In the process, Berube was able to empty her entire bench and give her emotionally-spent starters some needed rest.

"We were able to give some players that have been playing a lot of minutes some rest," she said. "[Junior guard] Kim Moynihan didn't even play in the second half, and [senior co-captain] Jenna Gomez barely played in the second half. So to come out like that and get other people to contribute is only going to make us better."

Tufts will take the court again tonight when it travels to Wheaton to take on a Lyons team that, ironically enough, has beaten the Jumbos on buzzer-beaters in each of the past two seasons. But the team feels good about where it stands after the weekend.

"There are definitely some things from Friday that we need to work on, but I'm not going to complain with 13-1," Berube said. "I think there are places where we can get better, and we're just going to keep working at it, but I'm pleased with the effort overall for the weekend."