MEDFORD, Mass. — The first-ever trip by the St. Joseph’s women’s basketball team to the NCAA Division III tournament ended in disappointment Friday night.
The Great Northeast Athletic Conference champion ran headlong into the juggernaut that is Tufts University, which rolled to a 66-43 victory.
Tufts, the New England Small College Athletic Conference champion, improved to 27-1 and set a school record for wins in a season. The Jumbos will play the University of New England on Saturday.
St. Joseph’s (23-6) kept it close for much of the first half and trailed only 20-17 after a 3-pointer by Mackenzie Dufour.
But the Monks couldn’t contain 6-foot-2 center Hayley Kanner and forward/guard Liz Moynihan, who keyed a surge late in the half.
“Tufts is an excellent team that can kill you inside and kill you outside,” said St. Joseph’s Coach Mike McDevitt. “They were very difficult for us to guard.”
After Monks center Morgan Cahill scored on an inside move with four minutes left in the half, St. Joseph’s went through a horrid stretch of misses and turnovers while Tufts scored 13 straight points.
Abby Young finally broke the drought with 38 seconds left but the Monks trailed 38-21 at halftime.
“Tufts is definitely not the sort of team you go against every day,” said Cahill. “We adjusted and played better in the second half, but they still played a great game.
“Going into this game, we knew there would be runs made and we felt we could make our own runs. It was definitely a challenge to go inside against a girl like (Kanner).”
The Jumbos scored eight straight points to open the second half, pushing their advantage to 46-21 before Young and Cahill fueled a comeback bid by the Monks. St. Joseph’s got as close as 58-43 when Young drove the lane with 3:40 remaining, but Tufts ended the game with another 8-0 run.
“As funny as it sounds, their only loss came after they’d been up by 20, so at halftime we stressed that we had to keep at it,” said McDevitt. “We did better and got it down to 15 for a while, but they finished strong.”
Cahill led all scorers with 22 points, including 10 of 12 from the free-throw line, while Young finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
“It was great to get here,” said Cahill. “This was all a nice bonus for us, especially for our four seniors. But we have a good core group returning and we’ll hope to get back here next year.”
Guard Kelsey Morehead led Tufts with 17 points. Kanner scored all 16 of her points in the first half and pulled down 11 rebounds.
“Winning our conference was special since we had never done that before, so that was a great accomplishment,” said McDevitt. “We are just not used to this level of play in our league, but we made some adjustments and were actually playing better in the second half. But no doubt the better team won tonight, and I think Tufts could be a Final Four team this year.”