In the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament play, the Jumbos established themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the national stage through dominant performances on their home court. Fresh off of a NESCAC Championship, Tufts continued its momentum against the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and secured a commanding 72–57 victory to kick off its postseason campaign. A huge 11–0 run in the second quarter gave the Jumbos a comfortable lead that they would never relinquish, and contributions from throughout the roster displayed the wealth of talent that resides in Cousens Gymnasium.
Junior forward Maggie Russell led the scoring with 17 points, followed closely by fellow classmates guard Samantha Sousa and guard Hannah Kelly who notched 14 and 10 points respectively. First-year guard Sophia Davis shined in the second half, adding 9 points and four rebounds in her 16 minutes of action.
“I think we were moving the ball really well and just finding the best, open shots and just executing our sets really well,” Russell said. “We were just playing really well together and we all trust each other to finish offensively.”
Tufts faced Skidmore College in the second round of the tournament, and while a commanding offense characterized the first half, the Jumbos’ consistent shutdown defense secured them a spot in the Sweet 16. Russell notched a game-high 23 points, and sophomore guard Sofia Gonzalez added 14 with three buckets from behind the 3-point line. Skidmore threatened in the second half, cutting the deficit to only 4 points in the last few minutes of the game, but the Jumbo defense stepped up under pressure and protected the lead, and the contest ended in a 59–50 Tufts victory.
“I think we were just really focused on … continuing to play great defense just like we did in the NESCAC Tournament,” Russell said. “Defense wins championships.”
Russell wears the NESCAC Player of the Year crown after winning conference weekly honors five times throughout the regular season and consistently serving as an offensive powerhouse for the Jumbos. She has scored 523 points on the season, bringing her career total to 950 with a year left to play.
“[I try] to work really hard in the gym, just always try to be the best version of myself and do whatever the team needs me to do to win,” Russell said. “I couldn’t do anything without our team and my teammates, and I think they do a great job trusting me [and] getting me open looks scoring.”
Tufts will host Wartburg College, Trinity University of Texas and the No. 1-ranked Christopher Newport University beginning on Friday to compete for a spot in the Elite Eight.
“I think it’s just a completely different intensity,” Russell said of the postseason games. “Every team is coming in hungry for a win … and we’re bringing the same energy. It’s really competitive and intense games where it’s a constant battle the whole time, so I think it’s really important just to keep our composure in these important playoff games.”
Tufts will have home court advantage against Trinity University at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“I’m really excited that we get to host this weekend,” Russell said. “There’s just so much great energy from all the fans. … We just love playing at home and we’re so excited to be back at it this Friday.”