No. 1 women’s basketball improves to 17–0 after close victories

Sophomore guard Molly Ryan dribbles down the court during Tufts' 80–42 win over Bridgewater State on Dec. 4, 2018. Evan Slack / The Tufts Daily Archives

The women’s basketball team improved to an undefeated 17–0, after wins against Hamilton, Amherst and Babson College. The team now ranks No. 1 nationally and is atop the NESCAC alongside undefeated Bowdoin.

After two Tufts offensive rebounds, senior guard Sadie Otley drained a three-point shot to give the Jumbos a 38–32 lead with three seconds left in the first half against Babson College on Wednesday. Tufts went on to beat Babson by a margin of 73–51, bringing its record to a perfect 17–0 on the season after the mid-week matchup.

Senior guard Katherine Tamulionis led Babson with 11 points, closely followed by senior forward Emily Bonifacic who put up 10 points. But their efforts could not come close to stopping the Jumbos.

Just over a minute into the game, senior guard Cailin Harrington made a layup to kickstart the match. Following these two opening points, Tufts would not trail for the entirety of the game. Harrington finished with 15 points, 12 of which came in the first half.

With 5:40 left in the third quarter, senior guard/forward and co-captain Erica DeCandido took the ball from coast to coast to put the Jumbos up by 10. DeCandido continued her dominance, adding 17 points in total during the match. She now averages 15.6 points per game. Additionally, DeCandido dished out a game-high seven assists and 11 rebounds. 

Sophomore guard Molly Ryancontributed 13 points, while junior guard/forward Emily Briggs also reached double-digits for the Jumbos, adding six points in each half to end the game with 12.

Against No. 5 Amherst on Saturday, DeCandido and sophomore guard Sofia Rosa put up 18 points each to lead Tufts to its first overtime win of the season, 48–46.

In preparation for a weekend with two NESCAC matchups, Tufts focused on improving its defense and building confidence. 

“All last week we were working on ourselves — we knew that we had to play really good defense,” DeCandido said. “Boxing out and also working on our sets so that we felt really confident in ourselves going into the game.”

Tufts was unable to get ahead of Amherst throughout the entirety of the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, a DeCandido free throw finally gave the Jumbos a lead at 38–37 with 5:12 left in the game. Regulation ended with the game tied 40–40.

In the five minute overtime period, Amherst got on the board first with a layup from junior guard Kate Sullivan. Rosa and DeCandido responded with layups of their own, putting the Jumbos up 44–42. After the Mammoths tied it once again at 46, DeCandido made a layup with just over a minute left that would ultimately win the game for the Jumbos. 

“In Amherst, it was a really tough battle the entire game,” coach Jill Pace said. “We did a nice job adjusting throughout the game to what was happening, especially coming out of halftime. Again, a nice job executing down the stretch and we had five minutes of overtime, that was our first overtime this year, so it was nice to come out on top, especially in that game.”

Tufts handed Amherst its first NESCAC loss, bringing the Mammoth’s record to 15–2 on the season and 4–1 in conference play. Amherst stands at fifth in the nation and third in the NESCAC, behind Bowdoin and Tufts.

“It was definitely a big team win in both games, everyone on our team played a really important role,” senior guard and co-captain Lilly Paro said. “We had great energy on our bench and they just kept us going the entire game.”

In another thrilling matchup the day before, Tufts traveled to New York on Friday and beat Hamilton 63–62.

The game was a back-and-forth battle, consisting of 28 lead changes. In the third quarter, Ryan and DeCandido combined for 15 of the Jumbos’ 19 points. Tufts ended the third quarter ahead 53–47 despite trailing by as much as five in the quarter.

A jump shot from sophomore guard Kelcie Zarle for Hamilton tied the game at 59 with 1:52 left. In the last two minutes, Rosa made a jump shot that was followed by a Hamilton three-pointer. Ryan was then fouled with seven seconds left and made two free throws to seal the victory for the Jumbos. With the loss, the Continentals dropped to 10–6 on the season and 0–3 in the NESCAC. 

DeCandido led the Jumbos and the game with 17 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore forward Liz Arnold also put up 17 points for the Continentals. Paro added 13 points off the bench for Tufts, including three three-pointers. Throughout the game, the Jumbos shot an impressive 92.9% on free throws, which ultimately won them the game.

“In the Hamilton game we struggled a little bit at the start to get going and find a flow,” Pace said. “They are a great team and they were playing very well. It was a close game at the end and I was proud of our execution in that end of game situation.”

DeCandido explained that, overall, defense was a major focus for the team throughout the weekend.

“Our defense wasn’t great [against Hamilton] but we adjusted towards the end,” DeCandido said. “Going into the [Amherst game], we adjusted really well with our defense and our offense. With both games being really close, we held our cool and pulled off the win.”

This weekend, Tufts only has one game against 9–7 Bates. But looming on the schedule is a matchup against No. 2 Bowdoin on Jan. 31, which will likely be the biggest challenge for the Jumbos in the regular season. 

“We’re really excited, obviously, that we got these two NESCAC wins but we also have to look forward to the games we have this week,” DeCandido said. “The NESCAC is strong, so we just have to keep focusing on ourselves.”