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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Women’s basketball opens NESCAC tournament with win over Wesleyan

Tufts Women's basketball wins first quarterfinal game against Wesleyan on Feb. 20.

The Tufts women’s basketball team opened up NESCAC Championship play this past weekend with a hard-fought 5855 quarterfinals win over Wesleyan. Seeded No. 2 in the NESCAC Championship, the Jumbos were awarded a first round bye and were matched up with the No. 7 seeded Cardinals as a result of Wesleyan’s 6352 win over the No. 10 seed Hamilton two days prior in the first round of the conference tournament. In a game in which neither team led by more than six points, the Jumbos used a combination of strong defense and offensive intensity to grind out the win. 

“Wesleyan's a great team," Head Coach Jill Pace said. "They have such great leadership and we knew they would come out firing ... Those end game situations are great experiences for us, and we've been in a few this season. I think our experience there really shined in the game and just proud of our team for pulling it out.” 

The visiting Cardinals got out to a scorching hot start shooting the ball, shooting 58.3% from the field overall and 50% from the 3-point line in the first quarter. However, it was the Jumbos that led after one 2118, despite shooting 42.1% from the field in the first. Despite the Cardinals seemingly unable to miss, the Jumbos used strong ball movement and maintained confidence in their offense to take the lead.

“We had pretty good movement offensively,” Pace said. “I think we had some good looks, so it was just about staying confident knowing that they would fall and then just making some adjustments on defense.”

The second quarter provided more back-and-forth basketball with Tufts sophomore forward Maggie Russell opening the scoring with a jump shot assisted by senior guard and co-captain Molly Ryan. However, in what seemed to become a pattern throughout the game, Wesleyan answered right back with two threes from senior guard and co-captain Caleigh Ryan to take the lead 2423. The two teams would proceed to spend the rest of the quarter trading baskets and playing strong defense, with Tufts taking a 3331 lead into the locker room at the end of the second quarter.

While the first half featured plenty of offensive production from both teams, the third quarter saw both Wesleyan and Tufts struggle to hit shots. Wesleyan shot only 16.7% from the field in the third quarter while Tufts shot 33.3% from the field but 14.3% from three. With strong defense on both ends once again, the game remained a nail-biter heading into the fourth quarter. 

Pace attributed the team’s strong defense as a crucial element to keeping Wesleyan in check after the first quarter.

“They're a really fast-paced team who shoots the ball really well, so I think we did a nice job slowing them down,” Pace said.

With neither team unable to pull away in the fourth quarter either, the Jumbos used a combination of efficient offense, strong defense and rebounding, and clutch free throw shootings to come out with the win. First-year guard Annika Decker split a pair of free throws with 20 seconds left to put Tufts up 5653 before a layup from Wesleyan senior guard and co-captain Maddie Clark trimmed the lead back down to one. A pair of free throws from Russell extended the lead back to three before a 3-pointer from Ryan to tie the game missed at the buzzer, sending Wesleyan home and Tufts to the next round.

Despite Ryan and graduate guard and co-captain Erin Poindexter McHan both having subpar shooting performances, both players made crucial contributions elsewhere. Ryan scored eight points while logging four assists and nine rebounds, six of which were offensive rebounds. Poindexter McHan scored five points to go along with four rebounds and solid defense.

“They’re both just such great leaders, and they both … both just bring so much energy,” Russell said of Ryan and Poindexter McHan. “They're always constantly communicating on the court, which we need as a team and they just make us as a team so much better.” 

Offensive rebounds played a huge factor in Tufts pulling out the win with the Jumbos grabbing 18 offensive boards. Pace praised the team’s effort and hustle on the offensive glass, even when the rebounds didn’t necessarily translate to points. 

“It's something we've been emphasizing especially as of late and I thought the team did a really nice job,” Pace said. “I think there was one possession there in the third quarter where we had like four offensive rebounds. We didn't end up scoring but the ball was on our end for maybe a minute of the game clock.”

Next up for Tufts is the NESCAC Championship Semifinal against the No. 3 seed Amherst in a game that will feature the NESCAC’s No. 1 offense vs No. 1 defense. Tufts averages 70.3 points a game while Amherst holds opponents to an average of 48.1 points. Knowing the challenge that lies ahead, Russell knows what the Jumbos need to do to win.

“Amherst is just a great defensive team,” Russell said. “I think we just have to keep working the ball around and it's going to be like a battle of the defenses in this game.”

The Jumbos will travel to Trinity Bantams with the chance to bring their fourth NESCAC title back to Medford. No. 5 seed Bates and No. 1 seed Trinity square off in the first semifinal game on Saturday at 2 p.m. while Tufts and Amherst tip off at 4:30 p.m.