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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, June 21, 2024

Women’s basketball finishes regular season 19–3, looks ahead to NESCAC Tournament

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Tufts guard Joelle Zelony blocks Smith College's attempt to score on Jan. 31.

Over the weekend, the Tufts women’s basketball team completed regular season play with two hard-fought wins at Middlebury and Williams. The Jumbos finished the season with an overall record of 19–3 and a NESCAC record of 8–2. Tufts defeated Middlebury 77–71 and Williams 69–64, both in very close and exciting contests.

In the game against Middlebury, the host Panthers took an early lead in the first quarter, finishing the first 10 minutes up 24–15. Middlebury continued its strong start to the game early in the second quarter, leading by eight points with just under four minutes left in the half. The Jumbos clawed back with an 11–0 run, capped off by a three from sophomore forward Maggie Russell to give Tufts a 35–32 lead. However, five points from Middlebury first-year guard Alexa Mustafaj gave the Panthers a 37–35 lead at the half.

The Jumbos used a strong third quarter to take the lead heading into the fourth quarter. A three from graduate guard and co-captain Erin Poindexter-McHan gave the Jumbos a 60–55 lead before Middlebury used an 8–0 run to retake the lead. The Jumbos fought back to take the lead and eventually sealed the game on free throws. Senior guard and co-captain Molly Ryan led the Jumbos with 20 points while Russell and senior forward and co-captain Sofia Rosa both had double-doubles.

Head Coach Jill Pace credited the team with sticking to its game plan in order to grind out the win against Middlebury. She was impressed by the team’s efficacy in running its plays and strong defensive coverage.

In another exciting game, the Jumbos defeated the Williams Ephs. A strong first half from the Ephs saw the hosts take the lead going into halftime. However, the Jumbos roared back in the third quarter, going up 50–39 and leading for the rest of the game. In what was an extremely back-and-forth game, the Jumbos used efficient shooting and dominated the boards to hold on for a thrilling victory to close out the regular season.

The first half saw both teams trade baskets and defensive stops, with the Ephs taking a 31–27 lead into the half. After a dominant third quarter that saw the Jumbos score 23 points and hold the Ephs to only eight points, multiple Jumbo turnovers allowed the Ephs to close the gap to seven. After another run from Tufts run, Williams cut the lead down to two points with about four minutes left in the game off a layup from first-year forward Arianna Gerig. The Jumbos held strong and closed out the game on free throws to cap off a game defined by runs. The duo of Russell and Rosa was once again dominant, with Russell posting another double-double and Rosa logging a team-high 22 points. The Ephs were led by 22 points apiece from Gerig and senior guard Maggie Meehan.

With both games sealed by free throws, Pace mentioned the emphasis placed upon free throws in practice.

“We like to try and shoot 80% as a team in practice”, Pace said. “It's been impressive to see our team's growth over the course of the season."

The duo of Russell and Rosa down low has been nearly unstoppable all season long, with Russell averaging a double-double with 15.7 points and 12.1 rebounds a game and Rosa averaging 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds a game.

Rosa credited the team's success to its guards and Russell's forceful defenses.

“We have really great guards who put us in a great position and get us the ball down low so me and [Russell] can score”, Rosa said. “We're lucky that we're both big presences in the paint so you know, the defense may be attracted to one or the other, but it's hard to guard to both of us.”

Looking ahead to the NESCAC Championship tournament, both Pace and Rosa echoed that this postseason is dedicated to the past senior classes that either had a season cut short or canceled altogether due to COVID-19.

“We're playing not just for this year and everything that we worked hard for but you know, for those teams, so it's 2021 and 2020 seniors who also lost their season," Rosa said.

Pace agreed, adding that the team has put in nearly five months of exceptional work to get to this place.

“I think there's definitely a little bit of extra motivation from [past seasons] but also from this year”, Pace said.

The 2022 NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship begins next weekend with first-round games on Feb. 18. Tufts finished the regular season as the No. 2 seed in the NESCAC, and will host the winner of the Hamilton (No. 10 seed) vs. Wesleyan (No. 7 seed) game on Feb. 20 at Cousens Gym.

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