Tufts, which gave up the second fewest points per game in Div. III last season, demonstrated its defensive prowess this weekend by holding Clarkson to 32 points in a 75-32 win on Saturday and defeating St. Lawrence by 21 points, 63-42 on Friday.
The Jumbos were successful on both ends of the court against the Golden Knights. Tufts held its opponents to seven or fewer points in three of the four quarters. The offensive load was distributed evenly among the Jumbos. Tufts’ five starters — led by the duo of junior forward Melissa Baptista and senior tri-captain forward Michela North, who combined for 28 points and 20 rebounds — outscored the entire Clarkson team.
First-year guard Sadie Otley paced the Tufts bench with 11 points. The Jumbo bench accounted for 38 of the team’s 76 points, compared to just two points from the Knights’ bench.
“Our bench played huge this weekend, [and] when starters got taken out, there was absolutely no let down [because] the people on the bench came in and were sparks and made a lot of good things happen, especially on the offensive end,” junior tri-captain point guard Lauren Dillon said. “They came in and made big shots and just kept us going. That’s another reason why we were so successful this weekend [because] we were wearing out the other team. They weren’t deep. They had five good players and we had 10.”
The Jumbos held the Golden Knights to just 14 of 55 shooting (25.5 percent) from the field, 0-7 from beyond the arc, and out-rebounded their opponents 53-28. This defense translated into offense on the other end of the court, with 24 points in the paint compared to Clarkson’s 10, while putting up 64 shots and a 42.2 field goal percentage on the day.
“Our defense is our driving force. It leads to our offense,” junior guard Jennie Mucciarone said. “The fact is that we kept the pressure on Clarkson, and it led to that great offensive game where the whole team [scored]. We have so many players that can contribute to this team and that’s what makes this team so special. It was a balanced effort, which was nice to see.”
A key to the Jumbos’ success on Saturday was their second half defense, where they held the Golden Knights to just 13 points compared to the 19 points allowed in the first 20 minutes. This emphasis on defense, especially after halftime, was a direct response to the team’s game the previous day against St. Lawrence.
“I know after the St. Lawrence game, even though we won, it didn’t feel like we really won — we didn’t feel like we earned it because the second half was just not how we like to play basketball,” North said. “Coming out the next day, we wanted to prove to ourselves and to everyone else just how strong our defense is, and we kind of came out with a chip on our shoulder the next day. We knew we had to play better.”
Despite allowing the Saints just five points in the first 10 minutes on Friday and racing out to a 34-12 lead in the first half, the Jumbos allowed 30 of the Saints’ 42 points in the second half.
“I think that coming out strong and not giving up easy baskets was really lacking in the second half against St. Lawrence, it didn’t feel like we cared as much and just thought we were going to win,” North said. “We came out really strong in the first half defensively, but we became complacent, we relied on our lead and just let up on our defense.”
The defensive statistics reveal a game of two halves. The Jumbos held the Saints to just 5 of 23 (21.7 percent) shooting in the first half, but allowed 12 of 24 (50 percent) shooting in the second. In the third quarter, St. Lawrence outscored Tufts 18 of 13 on 8 of 14 shooting while holding Tufts to just 37.5 percent shooting from the field.
“We came out pretty strong in the first half [against St. Lawrence] … [but] I think going to the second half we kind of took our foot off the gas and let them come back,” Dillon said. “It did feel like two different games.”
Mucciarone, who was sidelined all of last season with an injury, was the bright spark for her team. Mucciarone scored seven of the Jumbo’s 13 points in the third quarter and finished the game with 12 points on 5 of 10 shooting in 19 minutes of play.
“Last year I was out with an injury for the entire season … but it’s good to be back on the floor this year,” Mucciarone said. “I think just getting in transition [against St. Lawrence], bringing energy onto the court then kind of transitioned into that offensive play [and] it was just great energy from all five players on court that transitioned into the kind of offensive energy that we had.”
With all the success Tufts had this weekend on offense, the team’s focus continues to be on improving the defense to help drive its offense.
“Defense is obviously the most important thing to us and it’s what we work on in practice; we play team defense so that comes with just playing together more, and the more we practice the better we get at it,” Dillon said. “Everything that we do comes from our defense. When we score it’s because we’re playing defense and pushing the field and pushing on transition. Our best offense comes from the energy that we get on defense, and it just fuels everything we do. It’s easier to hit shots when we’re working hard on defense, pushing it and making opportunities for each other.”
Tufts plays today at Bridgewater State at 7 p.m. before traveling to take on the University of New England at 1 p.m. on Saturday.