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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, May 27, 2024

Women’s basketball routs New England 64–50 in 5th straight victory

A strong third quarter and balanced scoring propelled the Jumbos to a crucial away victory.

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Annika Decker is pictured against Colorado College on Nov. 21.

As the age-old idiom goes, “third time’s the charm.” For the No. 8 Tufts women’s basketball team, their third time out on the court each game, the third quarter, has proven this cliché to be true.

For the third consecutive game, a strong third quarter in which they outscored their opponents by ten or more points propelled the Jumbos to victory, as they defeated the University of New England Nor’easters 64–50 on Sunday.

There’s been a few games where we’ve been maybe winning by three or losing by … small margins. But then we come out just having that new half mentality,” senior guard Samantha Sousa said. “And I think we’ve all kind of bought into that and just have done a really great job that no matter what happens in the first half, it’s a new half. It’s a new 20 minutes. Having that mentality has collectively helped us in a lot of different games.”

Both teams entered the matchup with a record of four wins and one loss. The Jumbos were on a four-game winning streak following their opening-day loss to No. 4 Rhode Island College, having taken down Colorado College 74–54 in their previous outing.

Coach Jill Pace retained the same starting lineup as the previous five games, featuring Sousa, junior guard Annika Decker, senior guard Callie O’Brien, junior guard Sofia Gonzalez and senior forward Maggie Russell. As the game got underway, the Nor’easters gained an early advantage, controlling the first quarter from the tip. Going into the second 10 minutes, the Nor’easters held a 20–16 advantage.

Through the first six minutes of the second quarter, the Nor’easters had once again taken a sizable lead, leading 29–22 with 3:43 remaining. As the quarter came to a close, though, the Jumbos went on an unanswered, eight-point run to give them a 30–29 advantage at the half’s conclusion. The scoring outburst was fueled by Decker, as well as some much-needed points off the bench. Senior forward Mallory Folliard and sophomore guard Sophia Davis each contributed four points in the quarter, with Decker’s floater with under a minute remaining capping the run and ensuring the Jumbos closed the half with the lead.

The Jumbos’ narrow lead meant that the game was open for the taking at the dawn of the third quarter, and it proved to be a tight affair. With 5:32 remaining, the score was knotted at 37–37, and the Jumbos embarked on an unanswered, seven-point run that gave them a 44–37 lead with four minutes remaining in the quarter. O’Brien scored four of the seven points and Sousa capped off the run with a three-point dagger that prompted a Nor’easter timeout. O’Brien led the Jumbos with eight points in the quarter, followed by Sousa with five. The Jumbos continued their offensive outburst to close out the quarter, taking a hefty 51–40 lead into the final period.

The Jumbos would never let their lead relinquish, as they pulled away throughout the fourth quarter. Their run was fueled by more bench scoring, as sophomore guard Annie Aspesi knocked in two triples for six points during the quarter. Her game total of nine points marked a career-high tally. Sousa, Decker and Russell also contributed, as the Jumbos extended their lead to 14 points, comfortably finishing the contest with a 64–50 win.

Sousa was the Jumbos’ top scorer, tallying 15 points to go along with nine rebounds. She was also a perfect four-for-four from the free throw stripe. Sousa’s contributions as a versatile scorer and rebounder will be key to the Jumbos’ success.

“I feel like my role as a scorer has been different every year, but I think that even though I am scoring, I also am a constant positive energy on the court, which is something that we always need,” Sousa said. “If I’m scoring, that’s great, but I am more focused on playing great defense, rebounding when I can [and] keeping up the intensity right from the start.”

Discussing her performance against the Nor’easters, Sousa mentioned off-ball movement as the key to her offensive outburst.

“One of my strengths recently has been running the floor. I think movement just inherently gets to the ball,” Sousa said. “I think that we all did a really great job moving the ball around [and] looking up, and I think I had some good runs and my teammates found me open.”

O’Brien’s 12 points and Russell’s nine-point effort rounded out the top scorers, with Russell also adding nine rebounds. Rebounds were key for the Jumbos’ victory, and they claimed a whopping 23 more boards than the Nor’easters. The rebounding margin allowed the Jumbos to outscore their opponents 15–4 on second-chance points, a huge difference that contributed heavily to the Jumbos’ double-digit victory. The Jumbos also dominated in the realm of bench points, with their reserves contributing 20 points compared to just five for the Nor’easters.

Overall, the victory was a balanced team effort that resulted in a much-needed out-of-conference win. With the Jumbos looking to replicate last season’s successes of winning the NESCAC tournament and reaching the NCAA Elite Eight, every win is valuable, especially before NESCAC matchups begin. Despite their lofty goals, though, the Jumbos plan on taking things one step at a time.

“Our hopes are to win another NESCAC championship, and to ultimately make it to the national championship game down the line, but that’s obviously a really long time away,” Sousa said. “I think Coach Pace has kind of instilled in us … [that] the only thing that matters is the next game. If we just focus on the next game, that’s going to ultimately get us to our final goal.”