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

Women's Basketball | Weekend split leaves Jumbos at 5-2 in NESCAC

In the first half of this weekend's NESCAC double-feature, the women's basketball team defeated Middlebury on the road, tying the program's all-time win record and aiding its chances of a top league finish.

But after a buoying performance against Middlebury on Friday, Tufts suffered just its second loss of the season on Saturday, a 63-46 decision at the hands of the Williams Ephs. The Jumbos' second loss was a far cry from their first, a buzzer-beater loss to Amherst that first tainted their then-perfect record nearly a month ago.

The Jumbos fell behind early and never recovered on their way to a crushing loss that jeopardizes their chance of a No. 1 seed in the NESCAC Tournament. The 46 points and the team's 27.5 percent shooting were both season lows, and the Jumbos, who entered the game second in all of Div. III in rebounding margin, were beaten on the boards for the first time all year.

"This weekend was some of the worst basketball we've played all season," coach Carla Berube said. "I give Williams a lot of credit. We came out pretty flat, but they played very good defense and took away a lot of things we wanted to do. And when we did have open shots, we couldn't knock down anything.

"We're coming back 1-1, and we did pull out a decent victory against a good Middlebury team, but to go to Williams and play the way we did is a frustrating for all of us. I think we are a better team than we showed this weekend."

The Jumbos' first five possessions included four turnovers and two missed jumpers, allowing the Ephs to jump out to a quick 7-0 lead. Berube called a swift timeout, but her team followed the break with four more missed jumpers and two fouls. Tufts hit its first field goal at the 14:30 mark, a three-pointer from junior Kim Moynihan.

It was the third time in a week that the Jumbos had fallen behind early. Their biggest deficit had come against Conn. College last Saturday, when Tufts trailed by as many as 12 before running away in the second half for a 59-44 win.

"In the NESCAC, you can't keep doing that; you can't come out flat," Berube said. "There are too many good teams...for us to think that we can just keep going on our second-half runs."

That surge never came Saturday as the team failed to find any offensive rhythm. The Jumbos have relied heavily on their post play - to the tune of a plus-13.8 rebound margin and an average of almost 30 points in the paint - but ran into trouble down low against the Ephs. A pair of freshman six-footers, Taylor Shea and Chessie Jackson, led all scorers with 16 and 15 points, respectively.

"We missed a lot of easy shots - [Williams] doubled a lot down low, and we couldn't really get it going," Berube said. "They're big and strong and they were tough with us ... We couldn't find openings, and when we did, we were missing shots that we usually make."

But some sloppy play on both sides, coupled with good defense early - there were seven turnovers in the first four minutes - kept the Jumbos close. The deficit at halftime was only seven, where it hovered until the Ephs used an offensive burst midway through the second half to pull away.

"No one was happy with the way we played," said junior forward Katie Tausanovitch, who is also an assistant layout editor for the Daily. "Offensively our shooting percentage was extremely low, and we didn't do anything defensively to stop Williams from doing what they wanted to do. Williams was definitely a strong team, but the breakdown was with us."

The game dealt a harsh blow to the Jumbos' chances of securing a No. 1 seed - and the hosting rights that come with it - in the NESCAC Tournament.

The team's hopes for an undefeated league finish took its first hit with the loss to Amherst on Jan. 18, but the Lord Jeffs' subsequent stumbles against Williams and Bowdoin put the Jumbos back in the race.

But now at 5-2 and in a three-way tie for second place, the Jumbos must hope for a near-impossible perfect storm to land the top seed: a sweep of their remaining league games, an Amherst loss to 1-7 Trinity next Saturday and a Williams loss to either Wesleyan (5-2) or Conn. College (0-7) next weekend.

On Friday against Middlebury, the Jumbos picked up another road win, beating the Panthers 61-46. The win was not their prettiest - the Jumbos held just a 25-22 halftime lead and shot well below their season average of almost 42 percent from the floor - but it was their 19th, tying a program record set in the 1986-87 season.

"It's great," Berube said of her team's record-tying performance. "We're not looking back on the season - we're not ready to do that yet - but we're happy to be where we are, sitting at 19-2 ... It's a tribute to our leadership and how hard we've played."

Freshman point guard Colleen Hart turned in the second double-double of the year, with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Tausanovitch added 10 points, and senior co-captain Khalilah Ummah grabbed 11 rebounds, her fifth straight game with double-digit boards.

"One more win puts us in the record books as the best women's basketball team at Tufts, but we just want to finish up strong," Tausanovitch said. "There's still a chance that we'll be hosting [the NESCAC Tournament], and then it's off from there. We have two big games next weekend to remedy what went wrong this weekend."

Those games come at home against Bowdoin and Colby. Friday's tilt with Bowdoin is a must-win if the Jumbos are to capture the No. 1 seed.

The 6-1 Polar Bears are, perhaps surprisingly given thei early-season woes, at the top of the NESCAC standings. They have wins over two other contenders - Amherst and Williams - and after a 3-3 start to the season that had many thinking that there was finally room for a new NESCAC champion, they have won 14 of their last 16.

"We have no idea [how the standings will end up]," said Berube, whose team is looking for at least a first-round home game. "This league is all over the place. We know we have to win on Friday, and that's what we're looking for. The chips will fall where they'll fall. It's still a possibility that we will host, but right now we're just looking towards Bowdoin and Colby."