Women’s basketball stampedes to opening tournament victories

Senior forward Melissa Baptista drives to the basket in the 78–49 win over Roger Williams at Cousens Gym on Nov. 17. (Eddie Samuels / The Tufts Daily)

The No. 1 Tufts women’s basketball team (2–0) won the Tufts University Tip-Off Tournament with victories over the Roger Williams Hawks (2–1) and the Regis Pride (0–2).

In Saturday’s tournament final, the Jumbos humbled the Pride in a 81–41 win for the Brown and Blue. Tufts scored 21 of the game’s first 25 points, and all five starters got on the scoresheet in a first quarter that ended with 28–9 advantage for the women from Medford.

The Pride fared little better in the second quarter, committing as many turnovers (eight) as points scored. In contrast, the Jumbos’ potent offense and hard-nosed defense enabled the hosts to enter halftime with a gaping 49–17 lead.

Tufts’ junior guard Jac Knapp led all first-half scorers with 12 points on five-of-eight (62.5 percent) shooting. On the other end of the floor, senior co-captain guard Lauren Dillon flashed the high-level skills that earned her the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year award last season. The Wellesley, Mass. native stole the ball five times in the first half, with all but one takeway resulting either in a bucket or a Regis foul.

Knapp heaped praise on Dillon’s vivacious leadership on both ends of the floor.

“[Dillon] is our court general,” Knapp said. “Lauren was all over the place defensively, making key plays. This inspired us to keep the defensive fire going and keep working towards victory.”

The Jumbo defense continued to throttle the Pride in the third quarter. Regis did not reach the 20-point mark for the game until a free throw by senior guard Shannon Hayes with 5:39 left in the period. Tufts, meanwhile, put in 21 points in the third quarter alone. Knapp nailed two three-pointers, dished out three assists and snagged three steals in eight minutes of play, and senior forward Melissa Baptista sunk an early quarter jump shot along with four free-throw attempts. Tufts coach Carla Berube emptied her bench during the fourth quarter, and the two teams’ back-ups ran out the rest of the clock.

Senior Regis forward Brittany Stone led all players with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but her efforts were unmatched by her teammates as only one other member of Regis scored more than five points. Conversely, five Jumbos scored eight or more points. Knapp led the way with a team-high 18 points, five assists and five steals, while Dillon posted 11 points (on four-of-six shooting), four assists and five steals. Despite only playing 14 minutes, first-year guard/forward Emily Briggs grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.

Berube explained how the Jumbos’ defensive solidity enabled their offensive efficiency.

“We made [our] opponents uncomfortable through our defensive play, and it helped support the rest of our game a lot,” she said. “Our defensive aggressiveness fueled our offense this weekend, and we aim to maintain this throughout the season.”

Dillon highlighted the Jumbos’ ability to rely upon players up and down the roster.

It’s very early on, but I think the team is looking great. We are faster, more athletic and more dynamic than we’ve ever been before and we plan on using that to our advantage,” she told the Daily in an email. “As this weekend showed, we have many people who can step up and make big contributions in many different ways. Our team is deep and I expect that many people will get big minutes throughout the season.”

On Friday night, the Jumbos beat the Hawks in the Brown and Blue’s season opener, 78–49. The two teams were relatively close for much of the first quarter, and the lead changed hands four times in the game’s first eight minutes. A late 8–2 scoring run, however, gave Tufts a 21–15 lead by the end of the opening period.

The Jumbos expanded their advantage in the second quarter, with their lead reaching as high as 15 points after sophomore guard Sadie Otley sunk a jumper with 1:56 left in the half. The Hawks clawed a couple points back, yet the Jumbos still entered the break ahead, 40–29. Otley paced all players with 10 first-half points on 4-of-6 (66.7 percent) shooting.

Tufts cruised through the second half, not allowing Roger Williams to reduce the deficit to single digits after Dillon hit a three-pointer with 7:49 remaining the third quarter. The rest of the game was not without drama, however. A frightening moment for the Jumbos came with around two minutes left in the third quarter, when a hard Hawk pick flattened Dillon. The senior co-captain refused to be bowed by her opponents’ physicality, however. Though she seemed dazed at first and briefly exited the contest, Dillon returned early in the fourth quarter and immediately stole the ball on the next Roger Williams possession.

Four Jumbos finished the contest with double digit points: Knapp (15), Dillon (12), Baptista (12) and Otley (10). Roger Williams’ senior forward/center Teagan Dunn grabbed a game-high nine rebounds. As a team, however, the Jumbos out-rebounded (36 vs. 32) and out-stole (16–3) the Hawks.

Despite the squad’s solid performance in Friday’s season opener against Roger Williams, Berube framed the game as an impetus for the team’s even stronger Saturday showing against Regis.

“On Friday, there were some dips initially defensively, which we fixed on Saturday,” she said. “We have a lot to work on as a team, [including] our offensive execution, defensive rotations and… boxing opponents out.”

Dillon also saw room for future refinement.

There is a lot we learned from the weekend that we can improve on as a team going forward,” she said.A lot of it is on the defensive end, where we thought we gave up too many easy points and open shots. Going forward, we will have to hone in on our rotations and bring more consistent energy on that end of the floor.”

Tufts next plays tonight against the Emerson Lions (1–2). Last year, the Jumbos tamed the Lions, 77–47. This season’s encounter will tip off at Emerson’s Bobbi Brown & Steven Plofker Gym at 5:30 p.m.

Sidharth Anand contributed reporting to this article.