MEDFORD, MA – The Williams Ephs (17-7, 6-4 NESCAC) held the undefeated Tufts Jumbos (24-0, 10-0 NESCAC) close for three quarters, but couldn't get into a rhythm on offense in the fourth and fell 76-63 in their final regular season game.
Less than a day after a dramatic overtime win over Bates, the Ephs kept up with a formidable Jumbos team for three quarters. Though the Tufts offense played remarkably efficient basketball, shooting over 60% from deep, the Ephs nearly matched the Jumbos' efficiency from behind the arc and kept fighting back whenever Tufts was on the verge of breaking away. But the Jumbos tightened up on defense in the fourth quarter, holding Williams to just 11 points and taking a comfortable-double digit lead to ice the game.
Still, it was a valiant effort for the Ephs considering that they just came off an exhausting road match against Bates. "I'm really proud of how we played," said Eph head coach Pat Manning following the defeat. "The final score is very deceiving, because we were with them for three quarters. No one panicked, and we came up big at times."
Despite the loss, the Ephs still clinched a home NESCAC quarterfinal game for the first time since the 2014-15 season. The Ephs finished the 2019-20 regular season with a 17-7 record.
"To go 17-7 in the toughest conference in the country and play a home playoff game is a significant achievement," remarked Manning. "We're playing at a high level right now, and we want to continue that in the postseason."
The Ephs fell behind early, as the Jumbos sprinted out to an 8-2 lead on back-to-back threes by Cailin Harrington and Emily Briggs. While Tufts extended their lead to as many as ten with just under a minute to go in the first quarter, Williams fought back with two makes by forward Morgan Dauk '21 in the final 22 seconds to pull within six at 24-18.
The Jumbos once again started strong in the second quarter, bringing the lead back to 14 with five minutes to go in the half. But the Ephs stormed right back, closing the half on a 12-2 run. Guards Emily Chang '20, Maggie Meehan '21, and Mikaela Topper '21 led the way on the run, making key baskets and securing rebounds on both sides of the floor. At the half, the Ephs trailed the formidable Jumbos by just three, the halftime score being 40-37.
Chang led the Ephs with 10 points at the half, while Harrington and Sadie Otley scored 11 apiece for the Jumbos. Both teams fought hard on the boards, with the Jumbos earning a narrow 18-17 rebounding edge. The two teams were also equal in turnover battle, with each team turning it over five times.
On many occasions, it seemed like Tufts would pull away in the third, only for Williams to respond quickly and keep the game close. The Jumbos extended the lead to nine with 3:33 left, but the Ephs scored five unanswered, including a deep three by Chang. Tufts once again extended the lead to nine in the closing seconds, but Topper hit a desperation buzzer-beater three to cut the deficit down to six.
The Jumbos, however, put the game away in the fourth by clamping down on defense and prevented the Ephs from ripping off any sustained runs. After Topper hit a layup to put the Ephs within four, Tufts responded with a 15-3 run that spanned the next seven minutes. By then, Tufts' lead had grown to an insurmountable 14 at 71-57. The Jumbos salted away the clock from there, completing their undefeated regular season.
"[Tufts] can hurt you in a lot of different ways, both inside and from three," commented Manning. "They moved the ball really well, and went for the best shot on each possession."
Meehan, Chang, and Topper combined for 48 of the Ephs' 63 points. Maddy Mandyck '22, a key player for the Ephs down the stretch, was held scoreless with just one rebound after recording a double-double against Bates.
Harrington led the Jumbos with 17 points and added nine rebounds. Erica Candido fell just short of a triple-double with eight points, eight assists and nine rebounds. Molly Ryan was nearly flawless off the bench, hitting all four of her three-point attempts. As a team, the Jumbos shot a ridiculous 11 of 18 (61.1%) from beyond the arc, and 29 of 60 (48.3%) overall.
While the rebounding margin was nearly equal in the first half, Tufts dominated the boards in the second half, outrebounding Williams 22-11. The rebounding advantage was a key reason why the Jumbos pulled away in the fourth quarter.
Now that the regular season is over, the Ephs have their sights set on the playoffs. "We had a great week of practice last week, and we want to continue to get better," said Manning when asked about the team's preparation for next week. "Our opponent will be tough, so we really need to focus on us and go after it."
Next Saturday, the Ephs will host a NESCAC quarterfinal game (game time and opponent TBD).