AMHERST, Mass. – The Amherst College Mammoths women's basketball team are the 2018 New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Champions after taking down Tufts University 44-40 on Sunday afternoon at LeFrak Gymnasium.
Amherst (27-0) defeated Tufts for the third consecutive year in the NESCAC women's basketball title game, running their winning streak to 60 consecutive games while claiming the conference championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Tufts drops to 23-4 and will undoubtedly earn an At-Large bid in the tournament when brackets are announced Monday afternoon.
Amherst was led offensively by Madeline Eck '18, who had 17 points on 5-9 shooting. She also accounted for half of Amherst's three-pointers, going 2-2 in the contest.
Melissa Baptista and Erica DiCandido provided the bulk of the offense for the Jumbos, scoring 13 and 10 points respectively.
Like the last two NESCAC Championships, this contest was close till the final buzzer. Neither team led by more than six, and there were seven lead changes and eight ties.
"This was a battle all the way until the last shot," said Amherst Head Coach G.P. Gromacki. "Tufts is a great program and a great rival and it's always fun to battle them."
Tufts put up 51 shots to Amherst's 38, but the Mammoths constricting defense only allowed Tufts to make 27.5% of those shots.
Amherst maintained a second-half lead until Baptista tied the game at 39 with 3:45 left to play. A clutch three from Eck broke the tie, but Baptista would counter going 1-2 at the line to bring Tufts within two. In an attempt to tie the game, DeCandido drove down the lane only to be blocked by Hannah Hackley '18, who had eight points, five rebounds and two steals. Tufts were forced to foul and put Eck on the line, where she sank two free throws to ice the game.
"We made some big shots in the second half and started to play more the way we wanted to," said Gromacki. "Doesn't matter who we play, we seem to respond in the NESCAC Championships, and now we have a bigger [championship] to go after."
The #3 seed Jumbos led 14-11 after the first quarter and 23-21 at halftime, but Amherst started the second half on a three point play from Hackley, giving them a 24-23 lead, their first lead since being up 17-16 just two minutes into the second quarter. Amherst pushed their lead to six on free throws from Hannah Fox '20 and Eck. The Jumbos kept it within reach for the rest of the third and Amherst would take a 35-32 lead going into the final 10:00 minutes of play.
Fox added seven points, two blocks, two steals and two assists in the Amherst victory, and Emma McCarthy '19 scored seven points had also blocked two Tufts shots.
Jac Knapp scored nine points and had six rebounds and two steals for the Jumbos, while Emily Briggs had two blocked shots and a steal to go with five points.
The Mammoths and Jumbos are no strangers to one another in NESCAC tournament play. This was the third year in a row that Amherst and Tufts faced off in the NESCAC finals, and the sixth time since G.P. Gromacki took over in 2007. The previous two finals ended 41-37 and 50-49 in favor of the Mammoths. The sides also met in last year's NCAA National Championship Game, with Amherst winning 52-29.
The NCAA women's basketball selection show will be on Monday, February 26th at 2:30 pm. The selection show video can be found here: https://www.ncaa.com/sports/basketball-women/d3