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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Jumbos push for top spot in NESCAC

Junior guard Jac Knapp launches a layup in the 78–49 win over Roger Williams at Cousens Gym on Nov. 17, 2017. (Eddie Samuels / The Tufts Daily)

Disclaimer: Katie Martensen is a copy editor at the Daily. She was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

The Tufts women's basketball team secured a trio of crucial victories in a three-game home stand this weekend, taking down a pair of NESCAC opponents. Friday, Tufts defeated Conn. College with a score of 75–54 before taking down Wesleyan on Saturday in a 67–56 victory. The big celebration of the weekend took place Saturday, when the Jumbos honored their four seniors: forward Melissa Baptista, co-captain guard Lauren Dillon, guard Gina Doyle and co-captain guard Jennie Mucciarone. Tufts closed the home stand with a victory over Babson to improve its record to 19–2 on the season and 6–1 in conference.

On Monday, Tufts saw off Babson, 67–63, in its final regular-season appearance at Cousens Gym. Baptista posted a double-double of 28 points and 12 rebounds and keyed a fourth quarter comeback to keep their hopes alive for the top seed in the NESCAC Tournament (the team currently sits a half game behind conference leaders Amherst). Tufts trailed 35–30 at halftime after struggling to convert its field goal attempts (12-for-33, compared to Babson’s 16-for-28).While the Jumbos were able to knot the score at 47 after Baptista’s layup late in the third, junior guard Katherine Tamulionis converted two free throws to restore the Beavers’ advantage. In a seesaw end of the match, Tufts took the lead with 1:48 left in the fourth quarter on junior guard Jac Knapp’s three-pointer. Babson sophomore forward Jacqueline Jozefick’s technical foul with 0:35 to play essentially sealed the match for Tufts. 

Saturday was a day to honor and celebrate the team's seniors, but the Jumbos recognized they still had a game to play.

"Although we definitely were focusing in on Wesleyan as an opponent, [Saturday] was all about celebrating our seniors," junior forward Katie Martensen said. "They’ve put in so much to this program, so I think a big goal of [Saturday] was … really celebrating all the time they’ve spent here.”

Against Wesleyan, Tufts got on the board first with a three-pointer from Doyle off an assist from Dillon. Martensen contributed four points in the first quarter to help Tufts take a 14–12 lead.In the second quarter, first-year forward Angela Alibrandi tallied four points, while Mucciarone, Dillon and Doyle each added three points of their own, as Tufts took a 30–26 lead into the half.

In the third quarter, Baptista netted six and Dillon added four more.Wesleyan junior forward Tara Berger put up four points to lead her team's efforts in the quarter, but Tufts entered the fourth quarter with a comfortable 49–39 lead.Baptista made a three-pointer just 32 seconds into the final frame, with an assist from Martensen. Though the Cardinals' junior guard Olivia Gorman finished the day with a game-high 20 points, it was not enough to take the Jumbos down, as the hosts earned a 67–56 victory at the final whistle.

On a day when they were celebrated for their contributions over four years, each Tufts senior pitched in to the victory. Baptista scored 14 points and pulled down seven rebounds; Dillon scored nine and grabbed five boards, to go with four assists; Doyle netted seven and contributed an assist; Mucciarone added five and earned two steals. For Doyle, it was a day to celebrate the special bonds that she has created with those around her during the past four years.

"It means so much to be on the team," Doyle said. "Honestly, this team … we’re a family. Every teammate, every coach, every athletic trainer … [we are] family."

Dillon shared a similar sentiment.

"It was an incredible day," the Wellesley, Mass. native said. "Every person added a special part to it. It was nice to be recognized by people we care a lot about.

Taking on the Camels the previous day, the Jumbos benefited from strong defense and held a lead throughout the entire contest.Sophomore guard/forward Erica DeCandido found success at the free throw line, successfully converting seven of eight free throws in the first quarter to help her team build a 19–13 lead. DeCandido finished the quarter with a team-leading nine points.Martensen also put points on the scoreboard in the first quarter, coming off the bench to contribute four points, while junior forward Margaret Corcoran put six points on the board for the visitors. The Jumbos entered halftime leading 37–25, behind another strong quarter from DeCandido, who recorded six more points in the second frame.The Camels were led by Corcoran, who added three, and by junior guard Caroline Pangallo's five second-quarter points.

Baptista took over for the Jumbos in the third quarter, finishing six-for-six at the free throw line and netting two baskets for a total of 10 points.The Somerville, Mass. native also recorded five rebounds. The Camels put 17 points on the board, but could not match the Jumbos' 21-point onslaught, as the hosts extended their lead to 58–42 going into the fourth quarter.

Baptista opened the final period with two exciting blocked shots, and Dillon contributed a three-pointer off an assist from Knapp.Dillon went on to contribute two more points, and Knapp added two baskets of her own, as the Jumbos defeated the Camels with a decisive score of 75–54.

Tufts was paced by three players with double-digit point totals: DeCandido, who led with 15, Baptista (14) and Knapp (13). DeCandido and Baptista grabbed eight rebounds each, while Knapp led the team in assists with six in a team-high 37 minutes.Dillon recorded a game-high four steals to lead the defensive effort. Martensen, who finished the day with nine points, pointed to the team's focus on strong defense in order to explain its offensive success.

"We definitely wanted to focus in on our defense," Martensen said. "We know that [Conn. College] had some very strong offensive players, and we were really trying to know their tendencies and shut them down. So [there was a] big emphasis on just sticking with our defense, and then through our defense, our offense would come.”

Tufts hosted Babson (13–7) on Monday night before taking on old nemesis Amherst (20–0, 6–0 NESCAC) and Hamilton (13–7, 1–5 NESCAC) on their home courts Friday and Saturday nights, respectively. While the regular season is winding down — this will be the penultimate weekend before the postseason — Dillon shared that the team's mindset has not changed.

"[We are doing] the same as always: taking one game at a time," she said. "We try not to look too far ahead, and [are] just focusing on [tonight] and finishing out the year like we want to."