Jumbos asphyxiate Bobcats for fifth straight win

First-year guard/forward Emily Briggs dribbles toward the basket in the 78–49 win over Roger Williams at Cousens Gym on Nov. 17, 2017. (Eddie Samuels / The Tufts Daily Archives)

After a taut first quarter, the No. 8 Tufts Jumbos (16–2) besieged the Bates Bobcats (7–12) to earn a 67–28 victory at Alumni Gymnasium in Lewiston, Maine.

The opening 10 minutes suggested a competitive contest to come. Junior forward Katie Martensen contributed the Jumbos’ first six points, starting with a jump shot at the 8:52 mark. A couple minutes later, the Simsbury, Conn. native scored again, this time on a right-sided runner. After Bates’ senior forward Nina Davenport hit a three pointer with 6:03 left in the first quarter, Martensen hit another jumper to give Tufts a 6–3 lead. Junior guard Jac Knapp then got in on the scoring action with a bucket of her own.

The Bobcats responded swiftly, as Davenport Eurostepped past Tufts’ senior co-captain guard Lauren Dillon for a layup. Two possessions later, Davenport hit a three off a pick-and-pop play to tie the game at eight. Senior forward Melissa Baptista immediately regained the lead for Tufts on a pull-up jumper, only for Davenport to tie the game again at 10 on a long two-pointer. Baptista once more gave Tufts the lead — this time, for good — by sinking two foul shots to end the first quarter at 12–10.

Davenport’s scoring prowess was unsurprising, given her place atop the NESCAC leaderboard in points per game (18.3). Yet as the game progressed, it appeared that Davenport’s playing philosophy most resembled that of a late-career Kobe Bryant: always shoot the ball, no matter how bad the angle or how long the streak of misses. The Freeport, Maine native only scored eight more points over the final three quarters, and she ended the game having shot 7-for-24 (29.2 percent) from the field and 3-for-13 (23.1 percent) from behind the arc.

It would be easy to simply assert that Davenport got cold, but such a myopic diagnosis would ignore the Tufts defense’s ability to force the Bobcat taliswoman into low-percentage opportunities. Coach Carla Berube explained that the team specifically looked to limit Davenport’s freedom of movement.

“Bates has a really good offensive player in Nina Davenport,” she said. “We had to get closer to her and not give her space to take shots, and not let Bates get into their offense.”

Sophomore guard Sadie Otley recounted how players implemented this strategy. 

“After the first quarter, coach [Berube] just talked to us about shutting down [Davenport],” Otley said. “We knew that she was a really impressive shooter, so we had to focus on getting stops on defense and making sure that she wasn’t getting open looks.”

The Jumbos entered the game with the nation’s eighth best scoring defense, and they proved their mettle by holding the hosts to just seven points in the second quarter, six in the third and five in the fourth.

From the second quarter on, Tufts’ defense found success in two ways. First, the Jumbos went under a number of ball-handler screens set by Davenport, forcing the Bobcats’ less effective scorers to make plays on their own rather than provide an opening for the Bobcat forward. The Jumbos battered the Bobcats on the glass, out-rebounding them 57 to 27. These two factors contributed to Tufts’ ability to stay ahead of Bates over the duration of the contest.

Tufts’ offense, meanwhile, caught fire in the second quarter. Sophomore guard/forward Erica DeCandido put up seven points, while Dillon nailed a pair of three pointers in the span of two minutes. The Jumbos outscored the Bobcats 20–7 in the frame, allowing the visitors to enter the break with a 32–17 lead.

The Jumbos’ command of the game continued into the second half, outscoring their opponents 35–11 over the final two quarters of play. Knapp led the team by scoring 13 points in the second half on 5-of-7 (71.4 percent) shooting.

Otley spoke positively of the Jumbos’ ability to remain focused well after the final outcome had been secured.

“Something that we always talk about is coming off the bench and always being ready whenever your name is called,” she said. “Even though that game wasn’t super close, everyone just wants to bring everything they can whenever they get minutes.”

Three Jumbos scored in double digits for the game: Knapp (17), Baptista (13) and Martensen (10). Baptista — the reigning NESCAC Player of the Week — earned her fifth double-double of the season by also securing 11 rebounds. DeCandido finished with nine points and 13 rebounds of her own. Dillon had seven points in her return from a one-game absence, and her six assists equaled the amount amassed by the entire Bates squad.

The Jumbos return to Medford for a three-game homestand, beginning with a Friday match-up against the Conn. College Camels (11–5). The teams will tip off at Cousens Gym at 7:00 p.m.