Women’s basketball suffered its first loss of the season on Sunday, falling to the Tufts Jumbos 69–75 in the finals of the NESCAC tournament. Tufts, coming off a last-minute upset of second-ranked Amherst in yesterday afternoon’s semifinal, claimed its third NESACAC title in program history, its second since 2015, and secured an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Though missing out on an automatic ticket the tournament, the top-ranked Polar Bears are likely to secure an at-large bid in tomorrow afternoon’s selection.
The two teams battled back and forth through the first half before a packed Morrell Gymnasium, with the Jumbos entering the break with a four-point advantage, 33-37. The Jumbos’ defense baffled Bowdoin’s offense, forcing the Polar Bears to cough up 11 turnovers in the first half and allowing the Jumbos to hold onto the lead despite being outshot 35.7 percent to 60.0 percent from the floor in the second quarter.
Holding off a third quarter push by the Polar Bears that put them within one point of the Jumbos, Tufts did not surrender the lead in the second half, outscoring Bowdoin 23-18 in the fourth quarter to secure the conference title. Senior guard Jac Knapp and junior forward Erica DeCandido led the Jumbos’ offense, scoring 25 and 17 points respectively. Maddie Hasson ’20 led the Polar Bears with 20 points, followed by Abby Kelly ’19 with 16.
With every member of the team playing in her first NESCAC final, the team struggled to stay composed and execute its game plan, said Head Coach Adrienne Shibles.
“This opportunity really meant a lot to us. We all wanted to really do it for the seniors, especially. But I don’t think we handled ourselves with poise today,” said Shibles. “They allowed the heart to take over when the head should have.”
Rather than keeping the Jumbos out of the paint, the Polar Bears were outscored 24-34, and though they out-rebounded the Jumbos 31-25, the Polar Bears botched a number of crucial offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter.
“We got crushed on the board,” said Shibles. “It doesn’t show on the stats, but we felt like we had some moments when we gave up some key offensive rebounds for them that led to points on the board.”
Shibles was forced to use her bench creatively down the stretch as three of her starters, Kelly, Hannah Graham ’19 and Samantha Roy ’20, all accumulated three personal fouls by the middle of the third quarter. Kelly and Graham would both go on to foul out of the game in the final minutes.
Though the Tufts defense remained solid throughout the game, the Polar Bears were their own worst enemies, said Graham, especially when it came to fouls and turnovers.
“We seemed frazzled,” Graham said. “We needed to learn from our mistakes quicker, and that took us a while to do. You’ll see that in the turnover ratio.”
For now, the Polar Bears are optimistic that their #1 ranking and nearly-spotless record will be enough to secure an at-large selection to the NCAA tournament, beginning next weekend, and Shibles is hopeful that her players have gotten the jitters out of their systems.
If nothing else, the loss is a stark reminder that even the best teams can stumble. And with the team heading into the NCAA tournament (knock on wood), it couldn’t come at a better moment.
“There’s no room for error now,” said Shibles.