GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Seeking its second national title in school history, No. 1 Amherst College had to get past a familiar foe at Van Noord Arena Saturday in the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship.
New England Small College Athletic Conference rival Tufts, ranked fourth by D3hoops.com going into the championship game, was a team Amherst had beaten twice during the regular season. Both games were low-scoring and the title game was no different.
Amherst jumped out to a commanding first-half lead. Its offense was efficient and its defense was a brick wall against the Jumbos. Amherst then held off a Jumbos comeback to claim the national title with a 52-29 win.
“What a battle, what a season,” said Amherst coach and South Deerfield native G.P. Gromacki. “I am just so proud of my team for what they accomplished. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but to battle a great team like Tufts like we did tonight, I think our team really earned it.”
Amherst (33-0) jumped out to a 20-6 halftime lead. Tufts (30-3) made just three field goals the entire first half with one coming in the first quarter.
The teams shattered the record for fewest points scored in a Division III national-championship game, beating the previous low set in 1984, when Rust beat Elizabethtown, 51-49.
Tufts started the second half on a 7-0 run to cut Amherst’s lead to 20-13. Amherst settled down and forced two fouls on Tufts as Emma McCarthy sunk four free throws and a layup to take a 26-15 lead with 4:04 remaining in the third quarter.
“I didn’t look at the score until they started reviewing the play with three minutes left, so I didn’t really know but I had a pretty rough first half. Give it to Jackie (Nagle) and rest of the team that was on the floor for getting those defensive stops,” McCarthy said. “I had (Michela) North and she was hitting some shots. I knew coach always said it was going to come down to some big foul shots, us as a whole as a team, we knocked down a lot of good foul shots at the end.”
Amherst broke away after the Tufts third-quarter run, leading 32-12 going into the fourth.
Madeline Eck had an uncontested layup, followed by a Meredith Doswell layup off a steal with 6:07 remaining and a 38-21 lead. The layup by Doswell forced Tufts into a timeout to regroup, but after a fourth-quarter comeback Friday against St. Thomas, the Jumbos didn’t have the magical run in them a second consecutive night.
“It was tough. We didn’t come out of the gate very well. Didn’t make shots. And give a ton of credit to Amherst, they’re the No. 1 team for a reason. There’s a reason why they beat us twice during the season and tonight as well,” Tufts coach Carla Berube said.
Amherst held Tufts (30-3) to just 11 field goals and one 3-pointer. Tufts shot 6-for-8 from the free-throw line.
Amherst was led by D3hoops.com first-team All-American and Most Outstanding Player of the National Finals Ali Doswell with 21 points and 5 rebounds. McCarthy had 11 points and 5 boards while Ali’s sister Meredith had 10 points and 9 rebounds.
“It’s really special. I guess to think that our whole careers, we’ve been playing since we were 5 together, it seems like a pretty fitting way to go out,” Ali Doswell said. “I don’t know how we could’ve done it better. We have our team to thank for that. I feel extremely indebted to them. They helped us get to this moment. It’s what we wanted.”
“It’s definitely a very nice bittersweet ending to our careers. It’s very special,” Meredith said.
Tufts was led by D3hoops.com third-team All-American North with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while fellow third-team All-American Melissa Baptista had 5 points and 2 rebounds.
Since 2009, Amherst has appeared in seven Final Fours with one championship appearance prior to Saturday’s game.
The game was the first national title game in Division III history between two conference teams.