MEDFORD, Mass. — The University of New England women’s basketball team knew that its usually tough defense would be tested Friday night by New York University in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
Sure enough, the Nor’easters had trouble slowing down an opponent that averaged more than 74 points per game. But NYU couldn’t stop Kelly Coleman and the UNE offense, which led the way to an 80-77 victory at Tufts University.
Coleman matched her career high with 32 points on 11-for-19 shooting, and Alicia Brown added 18 points as UNE (27-2) advanced to a second-round matchup Saturday against Tufts (27-1).
“NYU came out ready for a fight, and we came out a little sloppy,” said Coleman. “But we came on strong at the end.
“I don’t think any of us are worried about who scores what – we just care about winning.”
UNE led for most of the game, but every time it looked like the Nor’easters were starting to pull away, NYU (19-6) fought back.
The Nor’easters broke out to a 21-14 lead in the first 10 minutes. NYU responded with three straight baskets, but the Nor’easters edged back out to 32-26 advantage on a Coleman 3-pointer.
Then the Violets tied it at 32-32 before four UNE free throws sent the Nor’easters into the break with a 36-32 advantage.
“They’re a very talented offensive team,” UNE Coach Anthony Ewing said of NYU. “They push the ball and average 74 points a night, and our defense gave a little bit tonight, but credit NYU for that. I liked the way we responded every time they made a run. We’ve got some tough kids here.”
The second half followed a similar pattern, as NYU kept making runs at the Nor’easters, often behind freshman Kaitlyn Read (25 points, 17 in the second half).
An inside bucket from Brown and an outside jumper from Alanna Vose made it 69-60 with five minutes to play.
NYU quickly cut the deficit to four points, but the Violets never did find a way to stop Coleman, and her nifty up-and-under move produced a three-point play and a 73-66 margin with three minutes left.
The Nor’easters had enough turnovers to keep it close. But Meghan Gribbin’s behind-the-back pass to Coleman on a fast break for another three-point play made it 76-68 with 1:24 left.
“I just got one of the best passes I’ve ever seen in my life from Meghan Gribbin,” said Coleman. “I couldn’t do any of this stuff without my teammates playing like that.”
Gribbin finished with 11 points and seven assists, and Alanna Vose added 10 points.
“We weren’t exceptional today,” said Ewing. “We turned the ball over too much and had mental mistakes early. But when push came to shove, our kids made the plays.”
Brown was immense inside, controlling NYU center Megan Dawe (15 points) and blocking three shots in the second half.
“We knew they had a couple of big girls,” said Brown. “I just tried to stay calm and confident and work for those rebounds.”
UNE’s long-range shooting was also a key, as the Nor’easters hit 8 of 16 3-pointers, led by Gribbin’s perfect 3-for-3 night.
“They went 2-3 zone on us, and we were pretty discombobulated for a while,” said Ewing. “But we knew, with good ball movement and open looks, we could hit our shots.”