Despite scoring just nine points in the first quarter, Tufts’ slowest start of the season, the team scored 21 and 22 points in the second and fourth quarters respectively for a 69-48 win against Emmanuel Mass. on Tuesday. Senior tri-captain forward Michela North and junior forward Melissa Baptista combined for 29 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks as the Jumbos capped off their seven-game road stretch with a win.
Junior tri-captain point guard Lauren Dillon scored the Jumbos’ first basket of the night, connecting on a 3-pointer just 11 seconds into the game, but the Jumbos turned the ball over in their next two possessions. Despite notching five blocks and five steals as a team, Tufts turned the ball over seven times to finish the first quarter tied at nine points apiece.
“I don’t think anyone on the team would say it was quite the win we were looking for,” Dillon said. “We started off rough. Our first half we were a little bit disjointed, we weren’t playing together, [and] I think we were rattled by all the fans and the defense that Emmanuel had on us. Emmanuel plays a lot of different defenses, different zones, and they correct a lot, so the pressure that they put on us caused us to put up a lot of turnovers that led to easy baskets on their end and not a ton on our end.
The last time Tufts was held to just nine points in a quarter was in the third quarter against Bowdoin on Jan. 6, although strong defense held their opponents to just five points in the same quarter. Against the Polar Bears, the Jumbos found themselves in a similar defensive battle against a stingy defense that held the Jumbos to a season-low 46 points on the night.
The second quarter against Emmanuel saw Tufts score 11 unanswered points while holding Emmanuel scoreless until there was 4:42 left in the quarter. The Jumbos had a double digit lead with just seven seconds left in the half, but a turnover by junior guard Jennie Mucciarone and a last second 3-pointer by Saints sophomore guard Maddie McLaughlin pulled her team within eight to end the half.
“We came into halftime thinking, ‘Wow, we need to get it together. We need to come together, take a deep breath, especially going into the second half,'” Dillon said. “In the end, we pulled it all together. We relied a lot on the experience of our returners just because the returners have played in situations like that, have played in Emmanuel in a tough away game, and they are kind of who carried us to that victory.”
North scored a game-high 16 points and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds, while Baptista notched 13 points and a game-high five blocks. Senior tri-captain guard Josie Lee recorded eight points and six rebounds on the night, sophomore guard Jacqueline Knapp had 11 points, three assists and three steals while Dillon finished with six points, six steals, five assists and four rebounds.
Besides their contributions on the court, the team has thrived under the leadership of tri-captains North, Dillon and Lee. Dillon, the only junior captain, credits becoming more vocal, especially when the team finds itself in tough road situations, as part of her leadership development.
“I think I become a little bit more vocal, kind of just taking control, telling people where to go and what to do, hopefully more of a calming voice, a reassuring voice, one that instills confidence in the rest of my teammates,” Dillon said. “As an underclassman, I was more of a leader by example, and it was more about my play. Now assuming this captaincy role, I feel like I’ve had to talk more, which I think has been helpful because you need a voice, especially as a point guard. I’ve kept the leading by example part but hopefully added a more vocal part of my leadership to the team.”
After a long road stretch, Tufts will return to Cousens Gym in their first home game since Jan. 7 on Saturday against Bates at 3 p.m.
“We had a couple of good moments in the second half [of the game against Emmanuel,] which shows how much the team has grown over the course of the season,” Knapp said. “It is a really important point in the season, and it’s always good to get a win and keep the momentum going as we keep continuing with the NESCAC season. We have a big NESCAC game this weekend, and next weekend we have two more NESCAC games. It’s just very important that we keep building and keep climbing and keep wanting to get better so that when we play better teams we’ll be ready.”