ROCHESTER, Minn. – Amherst College outscored Thomas More 23-9 in the fourth quarter and defeated the Saints 66-48 on Friday night in the 2018 Division 3 NCAA Women's Basketball national semifinals at Mayo Civic Center.
The No. 1 Mammoths (32-0) are just one win away from back to back national championships, and they will play in the title game tomorrow at 7:30 PM Central (8:30 EST) back at the Civic Center against either Bowdoin or Wartburg.
Thomas More, who was the last team to beat Amherst, at this same point in the bracket in 2015, had their 29-game win streak snapped and ends their season with a record of 30-2.
With a slim 45-41 lead with 3:25 left to play in the game, the top team in the country ripped off a 10-2 run, extending their lead back into double digits for the first time since the first quarter. The entire Amherst lineup contributed during that stretch. The lead would reach its biggest, 18 points, as the Mammoths hit a pair of free throws with under a minute left.
The two teams were separated by just a point with less than fifteen seconds left in the third quarter, but Amherst went 16-20 at the free throw line in the final ten minutes and held Thomas More to just three field goals during that time.
Emma McCarthy '19 was the catalyst for the Amherst offense, scoring 19 points, including ten straight in the first quarter as Amherst turned aside an early 5-0 lead for the Saints with a 13-0 run to take the lead for good. McCarthy also grabbed nine rebounds, while Madeline Eck '20 scored 11 points and dished out a game-high four assists.
Cam Hendricks '20 scored nine points on 3-4 shooting from behind the three-point line, and each triple she hit was bigger than the next. She tied the game at five midway through the first quarter, kept the lead at eight points late in the third, and then, after the Saints had worked to cut the lead to one (40-39) in the final seconds of the third quarter, she answered a late triple by Madison Temple, who led the Saints with 14 points. Hendricks beat the buzzer of the third quarter with her third three-pointer of the day to secure a four-point edge heading into the fourth quarter.
"It was huge," said Coach G.P. Gromacki of Hendrick's buzzer beater. "Cam stepped up and made a couple big shots early in the game as well from outside. I think it just made us believe a little more. It was a good find out of a baseline out of bounds, and it was good find from Hannah Fox '20. Cam didn't hesitate and it was up and in and on to the fourth quarter."
Amherst held the nation's second-ranked offense (86.2 points per game) and highest shooting percentage (49%) to just 18-55 (32.7%) from the field.
"I don't know if we've ever scored nine points in a quarter," said Thomas More coach Jeff Hans, a fate the Saints suffered twice (2nd and 4th) tonight.
Thomas More brought a band, cheerleaders and probably three times as many fans as Amherst. A massive Saint mascot was walking around the court before tip-off, and the crowd roared as Thomas More came out and scored the first two baskets of the contest.
Amherst stayed composed, and after missing three of their first four shots, the Mammoths went 8-8 in the first quarter, while holding Thomas More to 3-12 (25%) in the first ten minutes.
"They were energized. They were up 5-0 like a snap of the fingers. We held our own and went on a 21-6 run to end the first quarter and looked pretty good," said Gromacki. "It was nip and tuck for 35 minutes. I'm proud of the way the team handled all of the runs that Thomas More made."
Abby Owings, a WBCA All-American and a Josten's Trophy finalist, who is averaging 14.9 points per game, was held to just 2 points on 1-12 from the floor in the game. Hannah Hackley '18 had the task of guarding Owings, but she credited the entire team with stopping the crafty player.
"She is an amazing player, really. Truly an All-American - does it all. We were able to hold her to only a few, but the credit really goes to my teammates. I was on her, but really the defense behind me made all the difference," said Hackley, who scored ten points, two blocks and three assists.
"Sticking together is what makes us as successful as a defense," said McCarthy. "They score a ton of points, and defense is a huge emphasis for us, it's really our bread and butter."