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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Jumbos bounce back after dropping first game of break

2014-11-22-Womens-Basketball-vs.-Brandeis-6-2
–Tufts sophomore forward Michela North shoots during the second half of Tufts' 74-51 victory against Brandeis in Cousens Gym on Nov 22.

The women's basketball team started last season 21-0 before losing its first contest of the year to Babson in mid-February. While the No. 7 Jumbos have certainly started this year's campaign with similarly commanding play, winning 11 of their first 13 games by double-digit margins, they suffered their first loss of the season against the then-No. 6 University of Scranton Royals, falling 52-42 in the first game of the winter break stretch. Tufts went on to take the final four games that were played over the winter recess, most recently defeating Middlebury by 20 points in the team's NESCAC opener. 

The Jumbos traveled to Vermont on Sunday to tip off against the Panthers in their NESCAC opener. Despite going into halftime tied 23-23 after a series of scoring spurts in the first half, Tufts was able to pull away in the last 10 minutes of the second half on an 18-2 run. The Jumbos kicked off the game with seven unanswered points, which turned into an 11-3 run, but the Panthers answered with a 16-4 run of their own to take the lead 19-15 with 8:43 to play. Senior tri-captain forward Rachel Crews scored 11 of her team-high 14 points for Middlebury during the first half, while sophomore forward Elizabeth Knox netted all eight of her points during the first frame.

Slowly, however, Tufts pulled away and put the game out of reach. Senior tri-captain forward Hayley Kanner and sophomore forward Michela North recorded nine points each in the second half, as the Jumbos shot 46 percent from the floor compared to the Panthers' 18.8 percent. Kanner scored a game-high 19 points, North grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds -- securing her fourth double-double of the season -- and first-year guard Lauren Dillon tacked on a team-high five assists.

This win marks an important point in the Jumbos' season as they begin their search for a second consecutive NESCAC championship. The team knows, however, it will not be an easy road, and there is always a need to improve in preparation for the competition.

“Day in and day out we need to get better in every facet of the game," coach Carla Berube said. "Our defense needs to get better. Our rebounding, limiting second-chance shots, is crucial come NESCAC season. And then execution -- executing our offenses, executing by making open shots, executing by seeing and reading double teams. There’s a whole slew of things that we have been talking about and focusing on."

Prior to the trip north to Vermont, Tufts played one game on the road and one at home just after the new year. On Jan. 5, the Jumbos made the short trip to Babson College to take on the Beavers. The non-conference matchup saw three Jumbos -- Kanner, North and Dillon -- score in double digits as Tufts won 57-43. Senior tri-captain guard Hannah Foley added six points on 2-of-2 shooting from beyond the arc.

It was all Tufts in this one, as the Jumbos scored six unanswered points to start the game and stretched their lead to as many as 19 points at the 14:38 mark in the second half after a Foley 3-pointer. Babson responded with an 8-0 run to cut Tufts' lead to 11 with 10:36 left to play but Babson could not muster a comeback. The Beavers shot just 32 percent from the floor and committed 22 turnovers.

Two days earlier, Tufts took on Regis College at home, defeating the away team 57-44 in Cousens Gym. After a difficult first half in which Tufts shot just 25.8 percent from the field and trailed Regis 24-23 at the break, Tufts battled back to gain the lead for good. Kanner and North combined for 12 points in the first six minutes of the second half to push the lead to five. By the 8:31 mark, the Jumbos had widened the lead to 13. The Pride cut the margin to six with just over six minutes remaining, but free throws down the stretch sealed the deal for the Jumbos. Kanner, North and Foley all recorded double-doubles for Tufts, but it was Regis senior co-captain guard Emilee Marro who led all scorers with 16 points.

At the end of December, Tufts kicked off winter break play with a trip to Puerto Rico to play the University of Scranton and Baldwin Wallace University. This type of travel is something the team tries to do every four or five years, according to Berube. This time around it provided the team with an opportunity for development given the challenges it faced, especially in the loss to Scranton.

"I think we definitely learned a lot from it," Berube said. "And I think it opened their eyes to where we need to get better -- where they need to get better individually and as a team. I do think it was a great experience and definitely a time for us to kind of look at ourselves and grow from that."

On Dec. 29, the Jumbos took home a 57-44 win against the Yellow Jackets of Baldwin Wallace. Tufts, powered by a balanced scoring attack, maintained control throughout the contest. Foley led the team with 10 points, Dillon put up nine, and four players -- North, Kanner, junior guard Emma Roberson, and sophomore guard Josie Lee -- scored eight in the win. Tufts outscored Baldwin Wallace 23-6 in points off the bench and outrebounded the Baldwin Wallace 38-31.

The day prior, Tufts fell to Scranton in a game that posed problems for Tufts offensively. The Jumbos shot just 15-of-53 from the field, their lowest shooting percentage of the season. With a 19-day period in between Tufts' last game and the contest in Puerto Rico, Tufts had a hard time getting things to click.

"We had a long time off for break," North said. "We had like 15 days or something like that. So it was on us to get into the gym and get shots up and everything like that. And I don’t know if we didn’t do enough of that, or if we just weren’t on the same page when we got back. We only had two practices before that game until we were on the plane to Puerto Rico."

Despite hitting just 3-of-16 shots from 3-point land, Tufts stuck around and battled Scranton until the waning minutes of the second half. At the 6:52 mark, Foley hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 37 apiece. Almost two minutes later, a pair of free throws from senior tri-captain guard Kelsey Morehead put the Jumbos ahead 42-40. The Royals, however, ended the game on a 10-0 run to take the victory.

"They’re a top-10 team for a reason," Berube said of Scranton. "They have some quality players and very talented players and they played very well. They had a much shorter break than we did and you could tell that we were the more rusty team coming back from a long break. That’s no excuse; we should’ve played a lot better than what we did. So yeah, it was a tough game, but then we were able to bounce back against a talented Baldwin Wallace team the next day."

North paced the Jumbos with 14 points and seven rebounds, while Morehead added eight points and six rebounds. Senior tri-captain forward Meredith Mesaris netted a game-high 15 points for Scranton.

While the matchup with Scranton may have been a difficult one for the Jumbos, they will have to use the learning experience from that game to prepare for an even taller task come Friday: taking on No. 3 Amherst College. The Lord Jeffs are undefeated and will be back at Cousens Gym for the first time since the Jumbos defeated them in the 2014 NESCAC championship, the first NESCAC title in the program's history. The Jumbos know how important it is for them to be focused and ready heading into important conference match-ups that could very well foreshadow the playoffs come February.

"I mean, NESCAC is always the harder half of the season, the more competitive games," North said. "We just have to do the same things I was just saying. The energy is really everything for us. We don’t want to come out and have to come back during the game, we want to start out with the lead. We also have to pick each other up ... We really just have to bring each other up and make sure we keep scoring and getting stops. Everything starts with our defense. Once we get a good stop on defense we can transfer that energy and get a score on offense."