Tufts closed out its regular season with a 60–48 home victory over Trinity College (18–6, 6–4 in NESCAC) on Sunday, sealing the third seed in the NESCAC with a 22–2 overall and 8–2 in-conference record.
With Middlebury and Williams both suffering road defeats at Amherst, coupled with Trinity’s victory at Bates on Friday, both Tufts and Trinity have sealed a home fixture for next week. The Jumbos decisive victory over the Bantams locked Trinity into the fourth seed. In a conference that has historically been dominated by Amherst and this season by Bowdoin (24–0, 10–0 in NESCAC), the only question left in this competitive conference was who would finish third.
In the first quarter, both teams traded missed shots before Trinity’s senior center/forward Courtney Erickson gave the visitors the lead. Tufts’ senior forward Katie Martensen responded by finding the soft zone in the paint, but the visitors’ full-court press successfully trapped senior guard and co-captain Jac Knapp, forcing coach Carla Berube to take an early timeout. The first quarter was ultimately one of uncharacteristic mistakes for the Jumbos, which resulted in the Bantams taking a narrow 14–13 lead heading into the second quarter.
“It was a combination of [a few things],” Berube said. “We were just sort of passive, not really in attack mode. I thought we were missing some easy shots and so I think we’re getting a little down on ourselves, and then just some uncharacteristic fouls and just not making smart plays. But give Trinity credit, they came out very physical, I thought their guards were tough and strong and [Erickson] in the post was a lot to handle.”
Tufts started to show some signs of strong offense in the second quarter. With 6:36 to play in the quarter, first-year guard Molly Ryan found fellow first-year guard Janette Wadolowski on the inside after some patient ball movement from the Jumbos. Nevertheless, similar problems with execution continued to plague the Jumbos. Ryan committed a turnover which led to an easy lay-up for Trinity first-year guard Bailey Hyland. On the next possession, Hyland grabbed a defensive rebound off of a missed Tufts’ field goal and launched a pass down the court which first-year guard/forward Kaylen Campbell converted into two points. This prompted Berube to call a timeout in an attempt to stop the Bantams’ momentum.
The timeout helped as Tufts rallied from a 20–17 deficit to take a 26–24 lead at halftime. In one of Tufts’ brightest plays of the half, junior guard Sadie Otley worked the ball inside before kicking it out to junior guard Lilly Paro to make the Jumbos first 3-point attempt of the afternoon.
The halftime break certainly allowed the Jumbos to regroup for the rest of the game, as they came out with strong defensive play while also finding new ways to break down the Bantams’ zone defense on the offense. Ryan was 2-of-2 from downtown. After Ryan’s first 3-pointer extended Tufts’ lead to eight, Trinity coach Emily Garner called for a time-out. While her team was able to go to the line to make two quick free throws to narrow the deficit, Knapp was able to quickly to find Otley, re-establishing the Jumbos’ eight-point lead. Ryan then made the second of her 3-point attempts before junior guard/forward and co-captain Erica DeCandido added two more to Tufts’ lead from the free-throw line to effectively kill any hopes of a comeback. While the Bantams were able to narrow the deficit, Tufts never really lost control of the game thereafter.
“Trinity is a very good team,” Otley said. “We were just like a little surprised by their zone, especially. They were really aggressive cutting out the passing lanes and we were just a little shaken by that. But we used half time to adjust and talk about things that we can do definitely about that. And then once we had that figured out things went a lot better for us.”
The fourth quarter started in the same manner. Breaking down the tight zone defense no longer seemed to be a problem for the Jumbos, as they worked the ball around well enough to extend their advantage. Good ball movement opened up the outside for Knapp to make a 3-pointer to kick off the quarter. Otley was then able to make a smart pass to DeCandido to keep the pressure on the visitors. Knapp and DeCandido then both added to Tufts’ lead with lay-ups, giving the hosts their biggest lead at 55–35. The Bantams answered with a scoring run on their own, but ultimately the deficit proved too much to make up as the Jumbos sealed a 60–48 victory to close out the regular season.
Otley explained the team’s success in adjusting to be more successful at attacking the zone in the second half.
“In their zone, they were really out in the passing lanes to be aggressive, which just left the paint a little bit more exposed,” Otley said. “We noticed that if we move the ball and look to drive inside, everything really opened up. So that was part of the adjustment that we made and I think it worked a lot better in the second half.”
Despite the eventual margin of victory, it was not always smooth-sailing for the Jumbos. Erickson, who led with a game-high 16 points, including 10 of which came from the free-throw line, gave the Jumbos a challenge with her talent as a post player.
Knapp recognized the difficulty her team had in guarding Erickson.
“She’s a very good player. As much as we can work to prepare for her, she’s still a good player she’s still going to score,” Knapp said. “I think our post players did a good job limiting her touches and boxing her out.”
The bench also played a key role in Tufts’ victory. Paro and Otley dominated the boards, coming up with at least three defensive rebounds each, while sophomore forward Angela Alibrandi kept the Jumbos’ offense going with three offensive rebounds of her own. Wadolowski and sophomore forward Emily Briggs also recorded a steal each.
“The bench did a really good job today,” Knapp said. “Every time someone stepped on the court they were a spark. Sadie played great, Jan played great — both of them came up with big time rebounds for us and scores. Both also played super composed. All the post players who came off the bench, too, they were able to pick up on the current post [to defend Erikson], but I think our bench played great today and we’re going to need them to keep playing well [and] keep playing confidently as we go into the playoffs now.”
With the regular season over, Tufts will prepare to face off against Williams for the third time this season in the NESCAC quarterfinals this weekend.