MEDFORD, Mass. — It was heartbreak. Pure heartbreak.
The University of New England women’s basketball team was eliminated from the NCAA Division III tournament Saturday when Liz Moynihan – who missed her previous eight shots in the game – swished an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Tufts, the fourth-ranked team in the country, a 57-54 victory at home and a berth in the Sweet Sixteen.
“I haven’t started breathing yet. UNE really brought it,” said Tufts Coach Carla Berube. “They are tough and scrappy and defend very well, and get after loose balls. To be in such a competitive and fun game and come out on top makes us feel pretty lucky.”
And it was luck. And defense. UNE had opportunities in the final seconds of a tie game in both regulation and overtime but couldn’t convert.
In overtime, the Nor’easters (27-3) failed to beat the shot clock and Tufts took over on the left sideline, not far over midcourt, with 4.6 seconds remaining.
UNE, concerned with covering Kelsey Morehead, the shooting whiz for the Jumbos (28-1), placed three players in the backcourt to make sure she was deprived the ball. The inbounds pass was then looped to Moynihan, who caught it just over midcourt, behind the three defenders, and raced into the forecourt.
She reached the 3-point line as the Nor’easters scrambled to defend, and while appearing to stumble launched a line drive that swished through the basket.
The victory sent the Jumbos into the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight year, perhaps for two more games at home.
“On that last play, we just wanted to make sure Morehead didn’t get the ball because we felt she has the speed to take the inbounds and get into the paint in four seconds,” UNE Coach Anthony Ewing said.
“They hit a defended 3-point shot on the run, so credit that kid.”
“I didn’t feel there was a lot of pressure on that shot,” said Moynihan. “If I missed we wouldn’t lose, it would just be another overtime. But I felt contact and I was looking for a foul, too.”
The game was close throughout. Tufts led 8-0, but UNE pulled within 15-13 with 6:31 left in the half. The Jumbos led 20-19 at the break.
“I think we executed our defense and offense pretty well today,” said Meghan Gribbin of UNE. “By halftime we knew we could hang with Tufts. Coming down to that final minute, it was just their night to win.”
The Nor’easters already are looking forward to next season.
“Last year we stayed with Amherst (in the NCAAs) for six or seven minutes,” said Ewing. “Against this very good Tufts team, we competed to the very end, and we have almost everybody back next year.
“I’m extremely proud of my team. There wasn’t a single second today where they weren’t fighting hard. We executed our defensive game plan very well, I thought. We knew it would be a defensive game, and holding them to 48 (points) in regulation makes me really happy with that effort.”