Grand Rapids, Mich. – Amherst used stifling defense to win the Division III National Championship in commanding fashion Saturday, putting away Tufts, 52-29. It is their second title in seven years, and one which capped a 33-0 season.
WBCA player of the year Ali Doswell led the Purple and White with 21 points. Emma McCarthy had 11 points – nine from the foul line – and Meredith Doswell added 10. Ali Doswell also had a game-high four steals.
Amherst’s defense started at the three-point line, where they denied perimeter shots and prevented entry passes. On drives, they crowded the paint. The Jumbos very rarely had clean looks at the basket, if they had looks at all. On several possessions, the Purple and White got deflections, steals, or jump balls before Tufts could set anything up offensively.
“It was really a group effort on defense,” Amherst coach G.P. Gromacki said. “We knew they would come out fighting. We know what type of team they are.”
The two schools had faced each other twice this year before the title game meeting. In their last regular season meeting, Amherst earned a 36-35 win. In the NESCAC final, the Purple and White prevailed again, 41-37.
Another close, low-scoring game between the conference rivals seemed inevitable. Amherst entered Saturday with the nation’s best defense, averaging just 40.3 points allowed per game. Tufts entered with the second-best defense, giving up 42.9 points per contest.
But the Championship game was a blowout. Tufts fell to 30-3, with all of its losses coming against the Purple and White.
Doswell credited her sister Meredith as Amherst’s “best helper.”
“When someone drives past us, we know she’ll be there waiting,” Ali Doswell said.
Amherst led 20-6 at halftime. Tufts committed 10 first-half turnovers, including four by junior point guard Lauren Dillon. Jumbo junior forward Melissa Baptista, a two-time All-American, went 0-for-7 from the field in the first 20 minutes. Tufts missed all six of its three-point attempts and made just three of 19 field goals in the first half.
The Jumbos showed some life late in the second quarter, when they were finally able to feed the ball inside to senior center Michela North. They established their inside game even more in the third quarter, when North scored eight points.
Tufts started the third quarter with a 7-0 run to cut Amherst’s lead to 20-13. After Purple and White guard Emma McCarthy made two free throws, North made a jumper to put Tufts within striking distance.
The Purple and White withstood the run and led 32-21 at the end of the third quarter. They clamped down again on defense in the fourth, and the Jumbos didn’t score again until the 5:39 mark. Then another three minute ticked by until they were able to score again. All North’s jumper did at that time was cut Amherst’s lead to 49-25.
Baptista finished the game just 1-for-14 from the field and 1-for-8 from three-point range. She scored five points and committed four turnovers. Sophomore guard Jac Knapp, who scored in double figures in Tufts’ first five tournament games, was 1-for-6 from the field with two points. North led the team with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. She made six of 11 field goals.
Ali Doswell said defense was key in preparing for the match up.
“Coming into this game, we thought it would be a close game, a tough battle,” she said. “We were very focused, and we made the stops when we needed to and then put up a few more points than we usually put up against them.”
How, after two close games against Tufts, did Amherst win this one by 23 points?
“I wish I knew the answer,” Gromacki said. “It was our night tonight.”