Women’s Basketball Loses to Tufts in NESCAC Championship Semifinals

Last week, the women’s basketball team traveled to Bowdoin, the site of this year’s NESCAC tournament, for a heated semifinal matchup between the second-seeded Mammoths and the third-seeded Jumbos from Tufts. This was a rematch of last year’s NESCAC championship, which Amherst won. The game was hard fought and incredibly close, featuring 16 lead changes and 10 ties. After more than 39 minutes of action, Amherst had taken the lead, but late heroics by the Jumbos ended their tournament run and a chance to take home a fourth-straight NESCAC championship.

After a pair of clutch free throws by Cam Hendricks ’20, Amherst clung to a one-point lead with 23 seconds on the clock. Tufts took a full timeout, and both teams rushed to their benches to regroup. The buzzer sounded, and the crowd at Morrell Gymnasium rose to its feet, with cheers from both sides echoing throughout the building. Tufts inbounded the ball and dribbled up the court, passing the ball around to milk the final seconds off of the clock. In a risky move by coach Carla Berube, the Jumbos played to win the game with a last-second shot.

As time drew to a close, the ball found the hands of Janette Wadolowski. Gathering herself on the right wing, she drove to her left and pulled up from the free throw line, sinking the go-ahead jumper with 1.4 seconds left on the clock and giving Tufts a 47-46 lead. As the Jumbo faithfuls celebrated, Amherst quickly called a timeout. A new rule change in NCAA women’s basketball allowed the Mammoths to advance the ball to half court, cutting down the distance to the hoop and allowing them to save precious time. In the commotion of the inbound, a lob pass was sent in the direction of Madeline Eck ’20, but unfortunately it never reached her. She appeared to get tangled up with a couple of Tufts players, but the whistle wasn’t blown and Amherst’s chance to win the game went rolling harmlessly out of bounds.

First year Courtney Resch had 15 points in the loss, an impressive performance coming off of the bench. Hannah Fox ’20 was as solid as ever, scoring 14 points on four of eight shooting, with two key three-pointers. Leading scorer Eck chipped in seven points to go along with seven rebounds. Hendricks had a good game all-around, finishing with four points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals. Seniors Meghan Sullivan and Maeve McNamara added three points each.

Despite both teams’ reputation as high-scoring offenses, the game was a slow and defensive matchup, as the two powerhouse teams cautiously felt each other out in the opening frames. Stiff defense on both sides led to each squad sinking less than 40 percent of its shots. Amherst scored exactly 20 points fewer than their season average of 66, with Tufts well under their average of 73.9.

Throughout the low-scoring contest, neither team led by more than five points. Though both teams were evenly matched across most statistics, like rebounds or assists, the loss could be attributed to the turnover count. Amherst turned the ball over 22 times, while Tufts only gave up the ball 13 times.

Though the loss stings, Amherst must shift their sights to the NCAA tournament next weekend. With a chip on their shoulder, the Mammoths are a very dangerous team, and another exciting tournament run could be coming this March.

Tufts concluded the tournament with another upset over top-ranked Bowdoin, who was previously unbeaten. This was Tufts’ third NESCAC title, and its first since the 2014-15 season that saw the Jumbos finish fourth at the NCAA championships.

Despite not qualifying automatically as NESCAC champions, Amherst received an at-large bid on Monday to the NCAA Division III Tournament and will face Husson University in the first round.