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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Women’s basketball attacks NESCAC play with offensive dominance led by Maggie Russell’s 40-point performance

Junior Callie O'Brien drives in for a layup during the women's basketball game on Feb. 11.

Junior forward Maggie Russell cemented herself as one of the all-time greats of Tufts women’s basketball, scoring 40 points in the team’s 75–61 victory over Bowdoin in the first round of NESCAC tournament play. The Jumbos faced off against the Polar Bears in Cousens Gymnasium for their second matchup of the year, and after a tight first half, the Tufts offense stepped on the gas pedal and never let up. Russell’s 40-piece topped her previous career high of 33 points, which she set against Bates earlier this season, and she now stands in second place in school history for most points in a single game, a record set by Ellie Strobel’s 44 points in 1994.

While Russell had a remarkable game, the Jumbos trailed for the entire first quarter and went into halftime with a fragile 2-point lead. Sophomore guard Sofia Gonzalez, who added 13 points to the scoreboard, commented on the back-and-forth battle of the first half.

“I think that we had a little bit of a mentality that because we had won before we were gonna win again, and I think that first quarter showed that,” she said.

The Jumbos regrouped and made adjustments based on the knowledge they gained in the first contest against the Polar Bears, taking the lead during the second quarter and maintaining it for the rest of the game.

“When we had played them before, we knew that they were also a very good 3-point-shooting team,” Gonzalez said. “If we had ever lapsed on defense, then they had a very high probability of making those shots, so I think a lot of our emphasis came on helping defense and rotations and trying to stop them from doing what they do best.”

After halftime, the Jumbos found a higher gear. As the defense worked to eliminate the 3-point threat, the offense exploded, and the team’s free throw percentage reached 91.7%, the highest since January 2020. In addition to her 40 points, Russell went a perfect 16–16 in free throw opportunities and tallied 13 rebounds for her ninth double-double of the season.

Gonzalez leads the team in her success from behind the 3-point line, adding two against Bowdoin to bring her total to 64 3-pointers on the season, which is 40 more than the team’s No. 2 3-point threat, sophomore guard Annika Decker.

“I think just my teammates set me up in positions for me to be successful,” Gonzalez said. “I've just worked a lot on shooting, and I feel like that's just shown, and I really wouldn't have been able to do it without the spots that my teammates have put me in.”

Tufts will stay home to face Middlebury in the NESCAC semifinals on Saturday. Two wins away from a conference title, the Jumbos are focused on one game at a time.

“Coach says this a lot, but every game is just another championship,” Gonzalez said. “We need to focus on that game first and then we'll worry about everything else.”

The conference tournament inspires a unique energy, and Gonzalez looks forward to the high-intensity matchups.

“I'm very excited for the level of competition,” she said. “I think that the tournament always brings out the best in every team, and it's going to be no different with us.”