This was supposed to be the year. They had won 21 straight games. They had finally beaten Amherst. And before yesterday, the women’s basketball team was three games away from finishing with the first perfect regular season in team history. All they had to do was beat an 11-10 Babson team before finishing off Bowdoin and Colby this weekend.
Halfway through Tuesday night’s game at Cousens Gymnasium, it seemed as if the Jumbos, up 32-12 at the break, were well on their way. But the Beavers turned their fortune around in the second half, doing what no other team has done this season – edge out a win against the Jumbos, 58-52.
Led by sophomore Linnett Graber and freshman Giovanna Pickering, who each scored 16 points, Babson outscored Tufts 45-20 in the second half, holding the Jumbos to their worst shooting half of the season.
With their victory against the No. 5 team in the nation, Babson moves to 12-10 for the season. Meanwhile, Tufts falls to 21-1, but the loss, which hurts neither their NESCAC standing nor tournament chances, is still a tough one.
Enjoying home court advantage for the first time since Jan. 25, the Jumbos remained undefeated through a grueling five-game-away schedule that included two consecutive Friday-Saturday weekend matchups.
“I don’t think that we can blame it on the away streak,” senior tri-captain Caitlyn McClure said. “It was a team effort and we came out strong in those games and we did what we had to do. We didn’t come out with that same focus and energy [against Babson].”
The game began with a typical solid first-half effort from the Jumbos, who held the Beavers to just 6-of-11 shooting. However, the team’s defense fell apart in the second half, as Tufts allowed 45 points on 14-of-19 shooting – the largest number of points they have given up in a half this season. The Jumbos were also out-rebounded 34-24 by the Beavers, grabbing only 12 defensive rebounds to the Beavers’ 27.
“What we pride ourselves on is our defense,” senior tri-captain Liz Moynihan said. “It seemed like when we needed to get stops, we couldn’t.”
Tufts’ determination to secure a win at home against Babson seemed to run out in the second half as Tufts looked fatigued next to an inspired Babson team. The Jumbos were sidelined to a spectator role as they watched the Beavers chip away at their 19-point-half-time lead – scoring just one free throw, while allowing 14 points in the first seven minutes of the second half.
No one expected this non-conference matchup to be anything more than a routine win for the Jumbos. Yet a game that looked all too predictable on paper turned into a nail-biting affair, as Tufts held on to a slim lead, 42-38, with 6:26 left in the second half. Following two consecutive baskets, Babson tied the score at 42-42 with 5:47 remaining and built momentum as the game entered its final stretch.
The Jumbos had been outscored and outplayed from the opening tip of the second half, but took the lead with just over five minutes left in the game. Two free throws from freshman Michaela North tied the game at 44 with 3:20 left in the game.
Unlike they had done all season long, Tufts could not close out the final minutes of the game.
A jumper from junior captain Erin Young gave Babson a 46-44 lead, and after a Tufts miss, Graber hit another jumper with 2:24 left to push the Babson lead to four.
After a missed three from junior Kelsey Morehead, Babson hit two free throws to go up 50-44. Refusing to go down without a fight, Moynihan hit a tough 3-pointer with 1:37 to go, making it a one-possession game.
But a layup from Pickering with just over a minute to go put the Beavers up five and turned the game into a free-throw contest.
Babson, forced to perform under pressure at the foul line in the final minutes, hit six of their last eight free throws to ice the game, handing Tufts a stunning loss.
Notwithstanding the 19-point halftime lead, the Jumbos offense never really got going. They shot just 11-of-30 (36.7 percent) from the field in the first half, just marginally better than the Beavers, and ended the night shooting 15-of-50 (30 percent) from the field.
With the game on the line and Tufts in dire need of offensive tools to threaten the burgeoning Babson lead, Tufts perimeter shooting was sorely lacking as the team shot just 1-of-7 from beyond the arc in the second half.
Morehead played all 40 minutes of the game, but ended the night with seven points, 1-of-6 from beyond the arc and just one assist, a rare occurrence for a player averaging three assists per game.
Juniors Hayley Kanner and Hannah Foley, Tufts’ highest scoring forward-guard duo, ended the night with seven and six points, respectively, collectively shooting 2-of-12 from the field.
“We definitely need to improve our execution,” McClure said. “We weren’t getting easy shots out of our offense.” 12