WILLIMANTIC, Conn.. – The Tufts University women's basketball team was tested by Eastern Connecticut State University in Tuesday night's non-conference game at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium, but ultimately, capitalized on its size, depth and experience to post a 63-51 victory.
In a battle of unbeaten teams, No. 4 nationally-ranked Tufts (5-0) won for the 11th straight time on its opponents' home court since the start of last year. The Jumbos fell below their season winning margin of 24 points per game, but re-grouped enough after Eastern's (4-1) 16-2 run had sliced a 15-point deficit to one, 33-32, with just over five minutes gone in the second half.
The Jumbos answered Eastern's comeback with a modest eight-point run of their own to re-gain a double-digit lead of ten points, 44-34 with 12 minutes left. The Warriors hung within striking distance until senior guard Kelsey Morehead launched a three-point field goal with 3:32 left that pushed the Tufts lead back to 15, 60-45.
Freshman forward Melisssa Baptista of Tufts came off the bench to score five key points and grab two rebounds in seven minutes. In that critical 8-0 Tufts run in the second half, Baptista scored her first bucket of the game following a steal by 6-foot-2 inch senior forward Hayley Kanner, and minutes later, made it 42-34 when Kanner grabbed a defensive rebound, and Baptista put back her own miss on the offensive end.
Hoping to pull closer after trailing by nine with eight minutes left, the Warriors hurt themselves by being whistled for offensive fouls on two of their next four possessions, and Tufts eventually capitalized on both of those turnovers.
Tufts rolled up a 13-point, 29-16 halftime lead by outscoring Eastern by 12 points in the paint and limiting Eastern to less than 30 percent field goal shooting. Kanner and 6-foot-2 inch sophomore forward Michela North combined for five blocks shots in the first half, and senior guard Hannah Foley grabbed seven rebounds. In a futile effort to neutralize Tufts' size advantage, Eastern got little productivity out of its post players, with the exception of undersized junior forward Jill Ritrosky (Pittsfield, MA). Last week's New England Division III Player-of-the-Week, Ritrosky had 11 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes.
Sophomore guard Jordyn Nappi (Southington) led Eastern with 13 points, but needed 16 tries from the floor to record nine points. Senior guard Kristina Forsman (Newington) added 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, and sophomore guard Julia DePoi (Brookfield) had nine points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Kanner (7-for-11 FG) of Tufts led all players with 20 points and shared game-high honors with eight rebounds and four assists to go along with two blocked shots. Morehead had 13 points, two assists and two steals, North chipping in nine points and six rebounds and three blocked shots and Foley submitting six points and eight rebounds before leaving with an injury with 8:24 left and her team clinging to a 46-40 lead. Foley's replacement, sophomore guard Josie Lee did not score but assisted on three of her team's next four baskets, her third assist helping the Jumbos to a 13-point, 55-42 lead with 5:31 left.
Eastern hosts No. 13 nationally-ranked Williams College Sunday at 3 p.m.