Jumbos pick up wins in Conn. to remain unbeaten

4/4/16 – Indianapolis, IN – Senior forward/center Michela North reaches to block a shot by a Thomas More player in the NCAA Div. III women's basketball championship on April 4, 2016. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts racked up two more victories on the road against conference opponents in the state of Connecticut this weekend to remain unbeaten. The team’s record improves to 18-0 overall and 6-0 against NESCAC opponents. This run also matches the longest win streak that the team had last year on its way to the National Championship final.

Discussing the team’s performance the entire weekend, senior tri-captain Michela North spoke positively of the result and the work of her teammates.

“I think it was a really good weekend for us,” North said. “We definitely showed we can score, which is something that we kind of struggled to do. We’ve been averaging mid-60s … but we finally got 80 and 72, which is definitely big for us. Being able to put the ball into the basket, making good plays and making that extra pass to get the easier shot [is all] really good.”

On Saturday, the Jumbos defeated the Conn. College Camels (11-6), 72-48, as the team led from start to finish. The team made an explosive start in the first quarter, dominating the hosts 21-7, and they entered halftime with a 38-16 lead. While there was a slight defensive blip in the third quarter, which saw Tufts give up 26 points, the Jumbos responded by limiting the Camels to just six points in the fourth quarter. In doing so, they held opponents to single digits for the 27th quarter this season. At one point, Tufts’ lead grew to as large as 25 late in the fourth quarter as the team avenged last year’s 61-55 defeat in New London, Conn.

The team stormed to victory courtesy of North’s double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds, while senior tri-captain guard Josie Lee led the game with six assists. Among the other starters, sophomore guard Jacqueline Knapp picked up eight points and four steals, while junior tri-captain guard Lauren Dillon contributed nine points, four rebounds and four steals to a dominant Tufts performance.

First-year swingwoman Erica DeCandido posted a career-high 18 points from the bench on 6-of-10 shooting, demonstrating Tufts’ strength in depth. DeCandido also grabbed six boards and nailed all five of her free throws. As a whole, the Jumbos shot 43.5 percent in 62 attempts. In a complete performance for the team, Tufts also picked up 45 rebounds, their fourth-highest tally this season.

“I wasn’t really thinking that much about the numbers while playing, so it was weird to see at the end how much I scored,” DeCandido said. “It was more about the win and getting away from the weekend with two Ws.”

Likewise, North was more focused on the team’s strong rebounding during the game than her individual performance.

“I haven’t gotten a double-double in a while, but I think I was focused more on chasing after the rebounds …and boxing out is definitely a big key for us,” North said. “Our coach stresses boxing out and pushing back a lot. Conn. [has] a bunch of big girls. Wesleyan had a few, too. We had to make sure we kept them off the board so they didn’t get any offensive rebounds, and that was definitely a big key going into the game.”

One day earlier, the Jumbos’ offensive side put in their strongest performance of the season yet as they scored more points than they had in nearly two years, defeating the Wesleyan Cardinals (6-10), 80-45. Sophomore forward Katie Martensen put up a career-high 11 points, while junior forward Melissa Baptista finished with a game-high 18 points and eight rebounds.

“It felt awesome to get my career high and it was good to be able to contribute to the team win,” Martensen told the Daily in an email. “But in our last two games, everyone got an opportunity to step up and make big plays. It’s really nice seeing everything starting to click during such an important part of the NESCAC season.”

Once established, the team’s lead never went below 19 points, a sign of the strength of their offensive and defensive performance as a whole. The team was particularly dominant in the second quarter, going on a 15-point run to close the half and entered the intermission with a 46-20 lead. From there, the team never looked back. The Jumbos out-rebounded the Cardinals 43-36, and Tufts’ shooting percentage of 50.0 percent was nearly double Wesleyan’s 26.2 percent clip. The Jumbos’ success also stemmed from the performance of their bench, which contributed 37 points in total.

North believes that the team’s depth is one of the key reasons it has continued to perform so well.

“We definitely have a very deep bench this year like in years past, and I think it definitely helps getting everyone in and getting some playing time,” North said. “It’s definitely fun to watch them…score and play some great defense. It also helps the starters get some rest and be able to play 10 to 11 people each game. It just gets the whole team into it. The bench is always bringing so much energy.”

The team concludes its seven-game road trip at Emmanuel College (12-5) on Tuesday at 7 p.m.