Tufts started strong at home this past week, blowing past the UMass. Wheaton Lyons and the Brandeis Judges by a combined margin of 50 points in the team’s first two home games. The team recorded a 53-37 win over Brandeis on Sunday and a 73-39 victory against Wheaton (Mass.) on Nov. 22, bringing its record to 4-0.
The Jumbos got off to a slow start against the Judges on Sunday, who outscored them 12-15 in the first quarter. Tufts’ offense struggled initially, as the team shot just 3-of-15 from the floor in the first quarter. Tufts remained close despite its sluggish start thanks to junior forward Melissa Baptista’s seven points and two blocks in the first six minutes of play. The Jumbos clamped down on defense in the second quarter, holding the Judges to just two points, 1-of-17 from the field, to finish the half ahead 25-17.
The third quarter was evenly matched, as Tufts barely edged Brandeis 12-11 in the quarter to extend its lead to nine points — 37-28 — heading into the final quarter. The Jumbos went a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the fourth en route to 16 points in the quarter and held the Judges to nine, taking the contest 53-37.
Baptista carried most of the load for the Jumbos, double-doubling with 17 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks in just 23 minutes of play, finishing the day 6-of-10 from the field and 2-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Senior tri-captain Michela North also made Tufts history Sunday, becoming the all-time rebounding leader (852) after collecting 10 rebounds on the day. She also added eight points and five blocks.
“I thought we played really [solidly]this weekend,” sophomore guard Jacqueline Knapp said. “Obviously there’s lots of room for improvement, but Brandeis is a good team, they’re a very physical team [and] we definitely stepped up and played well.”
Knapp, as the only new starter on the squad this year, has embraced a greater leadership role.
“I think definitely as a sophomore I’m going to have to transition to be more of a leader this year, I’m still an underclassman, but we do have a lot of [first-years], and I think it is important even as a sophomore to be a leader on the court,” Knapp said. “I think the upperclassmen have been great with the transition and being able to play with them definitely helps.”
On the court, Knapp transitioned from being a point guard in her first year to being a forward and looks to be a key fixture on the team this year, averaging 7.8 points per game in 27.5 minutes played thus far.
“[Knapp] has been doing a great job so far. She originally came in last year as a point guard, but coach has clearly seen something in her regarding her abilities for defense [and] offense, so she’s been putting her a lot on the wing and she’s been doing a great job,” senior tri-captain guard Josie Lee said. “She just works really hard on defense, is a greater scorer and playmaker.”
On Nov. 22, the Jumbos notched a 34 point, 73-39 victory over the Lyons, forcing 31 turnovers and holding the visitors to just 23.3 percent from the field in their first home game of the season.
Lee contributed four of the team’s 14 steals, demonstrating her defensive prowess, along with eight points and four assists. Lee is looking to make more of an offensive impact on the court this season to match her defensive contributions.
“Personally, I’m definitely going to be working more on my offensive presence,” Lee said. “My defensive presence is what I usually rely on, but in order to really impact going further I need to work on my shot, driving the basket and even crouching the board for offense.”
The Jumbos raced out to an early 15-4 lead on Knapp’s back-to-back field goals about halfway through the first quarter and never looked back. The Jumbos outscored the Lyons by at least six points each quarter and shot 46.9 percent from the field.
“It’s definitely nice to see everyone in the rotation, [first-years] making an impact, returners making an impact,” Knapp said. “I think compared to last weekend we’re already making big jumps towards where we really need to be come NESCAC season.”
North posted a game-high 13 points and five rebounds, while Baptista was a perfect 3-for-3 from the 3-point range in the first half en route to scoring nine points.
In a game where Tufts nearly emptied its bench, first-year Erica DeCandido shot 5-for-9 from the field, posting 10 points and highlighting the skill of Tufts’ reserves.
“We have a deep bench and a large rotation, so coach [Carla Berube] has really been able to utilize that especially during games,” Lee said.
Despite its blowout wins this past week, Tufts is continually looking for ways to improve and maintain its competitiveness, even against weaker teams.
“I think we’re getting better: defense, offense, running plays, working on help defense,” Lee said. “I think it’s just the whole process and overall we’re definitely doing well so far [but] we’re only going to strive to [keep] improving.”
Tufts resumes its season this Friday at 8 p.m. against St. Lawrence and Saturday at 1 p.m. against Clarkson at the Williams Tournament in Williamstown, Mass.