Senior guard/forward and co-captain Erica DeCandido and junior guard/forward Emily Briggs combined for 75 points in the women’s basketball team’s first two games of the NCAA tournament, a 79–53 victory against State University of New York (SUNY) Cortland on Saturday and a blowout against SUNY Poly 72–34 the night before. The Jumbos now advance to the Sweet 16 where they will face a familiar NESCAC foe: the Williams Ephs.
“We probably played some of our best basketball, which is really awesome because we’re in the postseason and it’s the most important time to be playing very well,” Briggs said. “We worked a lot in practice on certain things the post players had to do, certain things the guards had to do, and we really executed that this weekend. We shared the ball really well, we shot well and we played as a team.”
In the first round on Friday, Tufts defeated SUNY Poly, while SUNY Cortland came out with the win against Western New England University. The two winners faced off the next day in the second round.
Against SUNY Cortland, the game was back and forth in the very beginning, until a 3-point jump shot halfway through the first quarter from sophomore guard Molly Ryan sparked a 10–2 run in which Tufts began to pull away with a lead. The Jumbos remained ahead for the rest of the game despite a close third quarter.
Both teams shot well from the free throw line, SUNY Cortland shooting nine for 10 and Tufts 13 for 16. However, the Jumbos grabbed 42 rebounds to the Red Dragons’ 29.
Four Jumbos tallied double-digit points including 26 from DeCandido and 21 from Briggs. DeCandido and Briggs also grabbed 11 and nine rebounds, respectively. Ryan added 10 points and dished out six assists.
The night before, Tufts glided by SUNY Poly with all 12 healthy players contributing to the commanding win. DeCandido led the game with 16 points, while junior forward Angela Alibrandi added 14 off the bench and Briggs put up 12. Senior forward Jaida Washington led SUNY Poly with 10 points and ended the last season of her collegiate career averaging 12.9 points and eight rebounds per game.
Although SUNY Poly got on the board first, Tufts responded a mere 23 seconds later to tie the game at two. DeCandido added a layup less than a minute later to give the Jumbos their first lead that lasted throughout the entire game.
Alibrandi added eight points in the second quarter alone, alongside senior guard Cailin Harrington, Ryan and senior guard Sadie Otley, who all drained 3-pointers. In the third quarter, the Jumbos ran up their lead, as junior guard Erin Poindexter McHan, senior guard and co-captain Lilly Paro and first-year guard Joelle Zelony hit 3s coming off the bench, while DeCandido added seven points. The Jumbos held their biggest lead of the game, 40 points, with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter.
Tufts shot an impressive 78.6% on free throws on the night. Alibrandi and first-year guard/forward Maggie Russell grabbed a game-high eight rebounds each while Ryan, Briggs and DeCandido had seven.
“From the start, our defense was great, the team did a nice job following the game plan and we just executed very well,” coach Jill Pace said. “We had good starts in both games and then we also did a nice job responding to the other teams’ runs throughout the game, which was a great job by our team.”
Tufts currently holds a record of 28–1, with a potential four games left in its season. SUNY Cortland ended its season with a 22–7 record and SUNY Poly ended with a 20–8 record. The weekend’s games were hosted by Western New England University in Springfield, Mass.
In addition to these wins this past week, DeCandido and Pace received NESCAC Player and Coach of the Year accolades, respectively.
“With Erica, her stats say a lot, but I think it’s the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that say the most about her,” Briggs said. “She’s an amazing leader, she pushes all of us to work so hard and she’s just a great example for everyone, from the freshmen all the way through the seniors. She works hard every day and it makes you want to work hard and give the same amount of intensity that she brings to practice and games.”
Not only did Pace win this award, but she did so in her first year as the Jumbos’ head coach. The Bowdoin alumna credited her assistant coach, Jamie Insel, as well as the captains, for making the transition so smooth.
“We have four awesome seniors who provide great leadership and two captains in Erica and Lilly who just do a great job leading our team and setting an example for everyone in the way we want our program to be,” said Pace. “It’s definitely a testament to the seniors, the captains and the whole team for just buying in. I think when there’s a new coach, you never know what’s going to happen, but this team just bought in right away, which was huge for continuing the standard of excellence for the women’s basketball program.”
On Friday, Tufts will play Williams in the Sweet 16 game. Williams currently holds a 20–8 overall record after beating Albright College and Ithaca College this weekend. Tufts and Williams have already played each other twice this season — the two teams met in the last game of regular season play in a 76–60 Tufts win and then again two weeks later in the NESCAC semifinals when Tufts won 69–63.
The Jumbos will look to repeat this domination in their third game against the Ephs in less than a month.
“Playing a team three times isn’t always easy, but I don’t think we’ll change anything,” Briggs said. “This time around, obviously we’re playing for a little bit more, we’re playing for our season to keep going. Not like any other prior games we don’t play hard, but there’s a little more of a reason to play hard now, especially for our seniors.”