Tufts completes regular season with two dominant victories

Junior Jennie Mucciarone weaves through defenders during the game against Trinity on Feb 3. (Sitong Zhang / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts (23-1) recovered from its narrow 36-35 loss at home to Amherst on Feb. 4 with two victories to wrap up its regular season. The team limited its opponents to just 27 points on both nights, with a 61-27 victory at Williams (15-9) on Friday night and a 74-27 victory over visiting Rhode Island College (5-18) on Monday night.

The win over the Anchorwomen was the Jumbos final regular season game, after it was rescheduled from Jan. 31 due to inclement weather.

All-time leading scorer senior tri-captain center Michela North scored on Tufts’ first possession of the game, as the team raced out to a lead it never relinquished. The Jumbos scored 20 of the game’s first 21 points en route to a 24-7 first quarter lead. The team did not relent in the second quarter, effectively locking up the win by halftime as the team entered the break with a 26-point lead.

North finished the game with 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Joining her in the scoring spree was junior forward Melissa Baptista, who finished with a game-high 21 points, while sophomore guard Jacqueline Knapp put 11 points on the board.

Throughout the game, Tufts demonstrated what made it one of the best teams in the nation, as it constantly forced shot-clock violations by playing with an air-tight defense on the perimeter that was hard to break down, limiting the visitors to eight points or fewer in each quarter. The Jumbos also forced 21 turnovers, turning them into 27 points. Tufts was similarly aggressive on offense, securing themselves 18 offensive rebounds to keep Rhode Island College stuck playing catch-up as the team wrapped up a dominant victory.

Junior tri-captain Lauren Dillon was pleased with the improvements the team showed.

“Offensively, we worked on our transition which really showed … especially against [Rhode Island College], most of our points were off steals or off empty possessions,” Dillon said. “Defensively, we got back to what we had been doing. We’ve gotten stronger and stronger because we spend every day working on it. I think what we did better is using our defense to fuel our offense and get buckets in the transition.”

Tufts completed a perfect 12-0 away record for the season on Friday night with a 61-27 victory over NESCAC rivals Williams. The teams traded a series of missed shots in the first two minutes before a turnover by Ephs senior swingwoman Lauren McCall set up a layup by North with 7:14 left in the first quarter. From there, the Jumbos asserted their dominance as they assembled a 16-5 lead after 10 minutes of play.

The lead only grew in the second quarter as Tufts went on a 17-0 scoring drive in under eight minutes to lead 36-11 at the break. For the game, Tufts was 25 of 62 (40.3 percent) from field goal range, as the team’s lead eventually grew to as large as 35 late in the fourth quarter.

Knapp spoke about the importance of these two victories for the team’s confidence heading into the postseason.

“I did think that these past two games have been really important. [When] we come out of a loss against a team like Amherst, we don’t necessarily want to take a step back but rather take a step forward and keep climbing — that’s been our motto this year,” Knapp said. “Since we did lose to Amherst, people would look to how we respond, and two good wins and playing good 40 minutes of basketball was important to get us back in the mindset with the NESCAC tournament coming up.”

Tufts hosts last Friday’s opponents Williams on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Cousens Gym in the first round of NESCAC tournament play.