Jumbos see off Bantams in final regular season game

Tufts senior guard and co-captain Lauren Dillon plays defense in a game against Babson on Jan. 29, 2018. (Allison Culbert / The Tufts Daily)

In the final game of its regular season, the Tufts women’s basketball team crashed Trinity’s Senior Day celebrations, defeating its hosts 59–40. The Jumbos demonstrated their defensive resilience, holding the Bantams to more than 20 points below their season scoring average.

Tufts first-year guard/forward Emily Briggs said the positive result reflects the team’s preparation.

“Leading up to the game … we spent a lot of time on our defense, and it really showed in the game,” Briggs said. “We held them to 40 points, which is definitely one of our goals … so it’s nice to see that the hard work we put it in practice is translating into the games.”

It was a high-octane start to the first quarter, as both teams tried to assert their position defensively. As they have countless times this season, the Jumbos never trailed, taking the initial lead on junior guard Jac Knapp’s free throws 40 seconds into the game. Trinity started all four of its graduating seniors, each of whom had little game time overall this year. It showed, as Tufts’ success came from holding its hosts to just six points in the first quarter, while going on an 11–4 run to finish the quarter up 17–6. In particular, Tufts limited some of Trinity’s top scorers to single-digit points on the night. Courtney Erickson, who averaged a team-high 12.3 points per game, had just the single free-throw made, while Peace Kabari, who had a season-average of 10.2 points, only put up five against Tufts.

The strong start set up Tufts to close out its final regular-season game with relative ease.

“It was really important to get off [to] a good start,” senior co-captain and guard Lauren Dillon said. “The team [that] starts off better usually wins games in the NESCAC because every game is so close [and] every team is so talented that whoever gets an early lead has a better chance of holding onto it at the end. So we always try to start games with a lot of energy, and energy leads to great defense which leads to our offense.”

The second quarter took a while to get going, with the first score for either team coming after two minutes had been played. Again, Knapp made two free throws, as the Jumbos looked to pull away. First-year forward Angela Alibrandi converted a layup about 1:30 later to extend Tufts’ lead, before Trinity junior forward Erin Cunningham’s three-pointer and jump shot closed the lead to 10 with 3:03 to play before the half. The teams then went back-and-forth, as Tufts went into the break up 32–18.

Dillon, the reigning NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year, had high praise for Knapp’s performance.

“Jac was great. She really did it all on Sunday, offensively making plays especially in that first quarter, but more importantly on defense,” Dillon said. “She had a really big match-up against [sophomore guard/forward] Peace Kabari, who is a great scorer and really strong and tough, and Jac was able to shut her down and keep her off the boards. She was a big part of our success on Sunday.”

A 10–4 run at the start of the third quarter gave Tufts the necessary cushion it needed to see out the game, with its biggest lead of the game (22 points) coming when Briggs grabbed an offensive rebound off Knapp’s missed layup and converted herself. The Jumbos were once again able to hold their opponents to single-digit points (eight) in the quarter. Tufts coach Carla Berube was then able to empty her bench in the final quarter, with first-year guard Erin Poindexter-McHan and senior guard Gina Doyle each getting a basket off the bench, as Tufts rode its early dominance to success.

“We just had to be more disciplined in our defense [going into the second half] and being able to put it in the basket in the offensive end,” Briggs said. “One of their good three-point shooters, [Cunningham], hit two threes so just making sure we contested her and picking up the energy on defense, we definitely came out with a mentality to stop them and not let them score.”

In a game that had an unusual number of three- and five-second violations, Trinity turned the ball over on 18 occasions, compared to Tufts’ 10. The Bantams’ miscues led to 12 points for the Jumbos, while the visitors gave up just three points off turnovers. Tufts also out-rebounded Trinity 33 to 27, and scored six more points off second-chance points. While Tufts’ overall three-point shooting was below 25 percent, the team shot better from the field than its counterparts, going 22-for-57 (38.6 percent), compared to Trinity’s 14-for-46 (30.4 percent) effort.

Overall, the Jumbos were led by Knapp, who had team-highs in points (12) and rebounds (six), while Dillon contributed nine points and a game-high six assists. Sophomore guard Cailin Harrington added eight points and four boards off the bench. On the Trinity side, Cunningham put up 13 points off the bench — the same total as the team’s starting five, combined.

Tufts finished its regular season with the third-best record in the conference (21–3 overall, 8–2 NESCAC), behind the undefeated defending national champions, Amherst, as well as second-place Bowdoin (Tufts lost to both teams in the regular season). On Saturday, the Jumbos will host the Conn. College Camels, whom they beat 75–54 on Jan. 26 in the first round of the NESCAC Tournament.