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

Women’s basketball falls to Amherst in NESCAC semifinals, receives at-large bid to NCAA tournament

The Tufts women's basketball team faces off against Smith College on Jan. 31, 2022.

The Tufts women’s basketball team’s run at the program’s fourth NESCAC title fell short on Saturday as the No. 2 seed Tufts fell to the No. 3 seed Amherst 73–59. Playing from behind for most of the game, the Jumbos fought valiantly but were unable to complete the comeback against the NESCAC’s top-ranked defense

“[Amherst is] a great team, they played a great game,” head coach Jill Pace said. 

To say the first half was an offensive showcase would be an understatement. Both teams shot the ball well in the first quarter, playing smart and efficient basketball to keep the game close. However, it was Amherst who held a 21–18 lead after senior forward Dani Valdez contributed 10 points with a perfect five-for-five on shots from the field.

The second quarter was more of the same, and both teams shot above 50% from the field. Amherst opened the quarter with a 14–5 run capped off by a three by first-year guard AnLing Vera to build a 12-point lead roughly midway through the quarter. Tufts clawed its way back, getting within a six-point difference with 2:46 left in the half on a shot from sophomore forward Maggie Russell. Tufts got within four with less than a minute to go in the half on another jumper from Russell before Amherst senior guard Lauren Pelosi sunk a mid-range jumper to give Amherst a 41–35 lead heading into the locker room.

Coming out of the locker room, Amherst showed why it was the NESCAC’s top-ranked defense all season, holding Tufts to just 11 points on 20% shooting. 

“They're a really tough defensive team,” Pace said. 

While holding Tufts to 11 points in the quarter, Amherst poured in 16 of their own, extending the lead to 12 again off a three from senior guard Courtney Resch. 

“They made a lot more shots than we did,” senior guard and co-captain Molly Ryan said. “We were not hitting our typical shots.”

Amherst began the fourth quarter up by 11 points before Tufts fought back again to get within five. However, that was as close as Tufts got, with Amherst getting enough offensive juice to close out the game and win by 14. Despite playing from behind for most of the game, the Jumbos knew to fight back.

“If you try to think about the end result of the game, you're going to get lost in the little possessions and the little things that you're doing,” graduate guard and co-captain Erin Poindexter-McHan said. “So it's really important to stay focused on the moment and win each point in each possession at a time,”

Four Amherst starters scored in double figures, and Vera lead the way with 23 points.

“They have a nice group of starters ... and have a good inside game and outside game,” Pace said. “They worked it inside and out … and I think made us move defensively, which can sometimes be challenging."

Despite the loss, Pace praised the team for not backing down and winning some box score battles. 

“Our team is really focused and throughout the game almost fought their way all the way back,” Pace said. “There were some really good moments with rotations, and I thought our rebounding was great.”

While Tufts failed to secure the NESCAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the team received an at-large berth into the field of 64, its 13th appearance in program history. Knowing that each game could be the last of their Tufts career, Ryan knows what’s at stake the next time she takes the court.

“My mentality always is to win but of course our season [is] on the line now,” Ryan said. “We all know that and we're all just gonna come out and play our game, and be the best we can be.”

The Jumbos are also using the loss as further fuel for their tournament run as they look to secure the program’s first national championship. 

“We just are going to use this loss as more fuel to our fire and come back even stronger,” Poindexter-McHan said. “I'm just not going to take any moment for granted, whether that's practice or games and I'm going to play with joy and just have fun and be extra motivated throughout the rest of our season,” 

Tufts was selected to host an opening NCAA regional round game this weekend, guaranteeing the Jumbos at least one more game at Cousens Gymnasium. NCAA regional play begins this Friday as DeSales University and the State University of New York College at Cortland tip-off at 5 p.m. The Jumbos face off against Clarks Summit University in the second game with an approximate tip-off time of 7 p.m.