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

Resounding win over Bates lifts Tufts to 4-0 in conference play

First-year Lauren Dillon has run the point for the Jumbos since senior tri-captain Kelsey Moorehead's injury.

At halftime of the women's basketball game on Saturday, No. 5-ranked Tufts led opponent Bates by 11 points. When all was said and done in the NESCAC matchup at Cousens Gym, the Jumbos had built a 46-point lead, defeating the Bobcats 83-37 to move to 16-1 overall and 4-0 in the NESCAC.

Prior to this weekend's game, Tufts had a non-conference matchup on Wednesday, Jan. 21 against Emmanuel College. The Jumbos traveled into Boston for their contest with the Saints, handling them 76-52. The two wins were Tufts' seventh and eighth consecutive wins, with the blowout over Bates being the Jumbos' biggest win of the season.

Despite holding statistical advantages in shooting percentage (45.2-31) and rebounding (24-12) in the first half against Bates, Tufts had trouble pulling away in the opening 20 minutes. The Jumbos had started the game with a 14-3 run that took them nearly halfway through the first stanza, stifling the Bobcats' offense. Bates stuck around, however, led by first-year Nina Davenport's 11 points off the bench. The visiting Bobcats closed the Jumbos' lead to just seven with 6:45 remaining before halftime, but six straight points from first-year forward Melissa Baptista pushed the lead back to 11. The teams traded baskets down the stretch and the 11-point lead would hold for the Jumbos going into halftime.

Baptista and classmate Lauren Dillon are two rookies making big contributions to an experienced Tufts team one season removed from its first NESCAC championship and a Final Four appearance. Dillon has taken over as starting point guard in the absence of senior tri-captain Kelsey Morehead, who has been sidelined with an injury. Baptista has worked effectively down low in the forward position, often coming off the bench early in the game for the Jumbos' starting front court of sophomore forward Michela North and senior tri-captain Hayley Kanner.

"I think it’s hard to make the transition between high school and college," Kanner said. "There are a lot of nuances that can be tricky to pick up -- what are fouls, what refs are looking for -- and I think they’ve done a great job. Kelsey has been a great mentor for Lauren, able to go back and forth with any questions Lauren may have. And I think Melissa has stepped up as well. Melissa’s been doing great as well, especially in recent games. She’s got such a talented skill set already, and just having her melt into our offense and defense has been great."

After the halftime intermission, Tufts slowly put the game out of reach. Just over five minutes into the second half, sophomore Josie Lee put Tufts up by 21, 46-25, on a 3-pointer. At the 9:19 mark, Tufts had stretched the lead to 30 after a pair of free throws from North. With 7:26 remaining to play, coach Carla Berube had substituted all of the starters out. The players off the bench picked up right where the starters left off, continuing to build the Jumbos' lead.

"We’re going to play our brand of basketball from minute one to minute 40, doesn’t matter who’s on the floor," Berube said. "And I thought that the players that came in towards the end of the game did a really great job executing, defending, boxing out -- and we expect nothing less than that."

Tufts' depth of talent was showcased during the second half. Junior Maura Folliard scored eight points off the bench and hit two out of three shots from beyond the arc, while senior Hannah Artner pulled down four rebounds in nine minutes of play. Most significantly, 11 of the 12 players listed for Tufts scored during the contest, and nine of the 12 logged double-digit minutes.

"The reason why we have such a deep bench is because we have so many players that can play competitively in practice," Kanner said. "And I think that speaks to our second team, that they can come in against a NESCAC opponent and keep the score going up. We don’t have a definitive line, I think, between starters and bench players. I think bench players push our starters every single day."

North finished as the game leader in points with 19, while senior tri-captain Hannah Foley paced the Jumbos with seven rebounds to go along with her eight points. Kanner and Baptista scored 15 points apiece and had six and five rebounds, respectively. Lee also grabbed six rebounds, while Dillon picked up six assists. Davenport finished with 15 points for Bates, and also tied for the team-lead in rebounds, five, with sophomore center Allie Coppola.

Tufts outshot Bates by a margin of 53.3 percent to 25.5 percent, and also held a huge advantage in rebounds, 53-21. The most telling stat difference, however, might be points in the paint: Tufts dominated 44-10. This advantage down low, with skilled play from Kanner and North, is something the Jumbos are always looking to utilize.

"We have 6’2”, 6’2” inside," Berube said. "Of course we’re looking to pound it in the post every chance we get. You know, what happens defensively is if Bates has some great outside players, five outside players, it’s a little bit harder defensively for our bigs to play. I think they did a better job in the second half defending the perimeter. But offensively, absolutely. We want to run, and we want to pound it in the post -- get easy opportunities inside when we have that kind of advantage."

Tufts also found success down low in the previous game against Emmanuel. The Jumbos held a 54-22 advantage in rebounds, while North and Kanner posted double-doubles of 25 points and 10 rebounds and 13 points and 12 rebounds, respectively. The Jumbos led the Saints at half 34-21 and maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way. Foley also starred for Tufts with 17 points and nine rebounds in the win.

Morehead, who has not logged a minute of play since Dec. 29 on the team's trip to Puerto Rico, is still an undecided for the Jumbos. Coach Berube said the team expects her return soon, but the senior tri-captain will have to wait to hear from a doctor this week to update her status on when she can rejoin her teammates on the court.

Tufts will play a series of NESCAC games on the road next, as they travel to Conn. College for a game Friday night and Wesleyan the following day. These games will be crucial as the Jumbos vie for the top spot in the conference, currently held by Bowdoin, who is undefeated at 5-0.