MEDFORD, Mass—Kellie Macdonald's homecoming didn't work out quite as well as she might have hoped.
Although Macdonald, who hails from Danvers, MA, about half an hour's drive from Medford, tied a season high with eight points in front of a large contingent of family and friends that turned out to see her play, it wasn't enough to help the Williams women's basketball team on Friday evening, which rallied late but ultimately fell to No. 10 Tufts by a 61-57 tally in the NESCAC opener for both teams on Friday evening.
With the setback, the Ephs saw their four-game winning streak snapped and fell to 9-2 overall on the season, while the Jumbos ran their season-opening winning streak that has catapulted them into the top 10 of multiple national polls to 12 games.
While Williams did get the game's first basket when Claire Baecher used her size to back towards the basket before turning and sinking a fadeaway baseline jumper, things quickly went downhill from there for the Ephs. Former second-team All-NESCAC forward Kate Barnosky kick-started the Jumbo offense with an early jumper, followed by a pair of drives to the hoop that netted her an additional three points via an impressive one-handed layup and a foul shot.
Meanwhile, the Ephs struggled mightily from the field and missed nine of their first eleven shots, so that by the time Liz Moynihan drained the game's first three pointer for either side with 7:08 remaining, the Jumbo lead had ballooned all the way to 11 at 23-12, prompting Eph coach Pat Manning to use her first timeout.
Initially, it seemed as though the timeout would pay dividends when Danny Rainer cleaned up an airball from Ellen Cook under the hoop to trim the deficit to single digits and Jennie Harding hit the Ephs' first three on their next trip up the court to knock the Tufts lead to six.
Instead, though, Harding's basket established the parameters for an uneasy game of scoreboard yo-yo that persisted for the rest of the half, as the Ephs failed to close any closer than six but never fell further behind than 11, making the half a difficult one to decipher in terms of momentum and leaving the Ephs down nine at the buzzer after Harding, who spearheaded the Eph attack in the first half and finished with 14 points, hit a jumper from just inside the three-point line on the Ephs' final possession of the half.
Unfortunately for the Ephs, that elastic quickly snapped when the Jumbos went on a 9-2 run to open the second half. Once again, Eph shooters struggled mightily from the field in the early going, this time missing 11 of their first 13 in seeing the deficit swell to as much as 16 with 14:45 remaining in the contest.
The Ephs' shooting troubles frustrated Manning, who attributed her squad's lack of success to a number of factors.
"I thought in the first half a lot of shots were in and out, but we also didn't do the job we needed to on the boards and just weren't in sync for most of the night," said Manning, who also praised the Jumbos' effort. "They [Tufts] play very solid defense and I think our shooting woes were due in part to that, but also due to a lack of execution on our part."
With another NESCAC road matchup at Bates scheduled to tip-off in less than 20 hours, few would have faulted Williams for packing it in and looking ahead to tomorrow. To their immense credit, however, the Ephs refused to give in and slowly began to chip away at the Tufts advantage.
Indeed, the comeback was so slow that at first it was hardly perceptible. An Ellen Cook floater from inside the lane made it 45-34, but her effort was quickly negated when Kelsey Morehead drove to the hoop just seconds later to extend the Tufts lead back to 13, while Claire Baecher's basket-and-one was similarly canceled by a pair of layups from Liz Moynihan, the second a deft one-hander that left the Jumbos ahead by 14.
Desperate for a spark, the Eph bench came alive when Harding knocked down a three from near the top of the key after some excellent ball movement by the Ephs to make it 51-42, an effort that was followed by a knifing layup from Cook that forced Tufts coach Carla Berube to call a full timeout with 6:03 remaining. But the timeout did little to deter Cook, who stole the ball on the ensuing Jumbo possession and drove the length of the court for another layup to bring the Ephs within five, the closest they'd been since the game's opening minutes.
Things seemed to be going the Ephs' way, but Barnosky dealt their hopes a critical blow on the Jumbos next trip up the court when she drove to the rim and made a critical layup while being impeded by Rainer, who picked up her fourth foul and was forced to sit with over five minutes to play. When Barnosky hit her free-throw to complete a three-point play, it seemed as though the Ephs had once more run out of gas, especially after Hannah Foley, who lead Tufts with 13 points, managed to coax a one-handed layup of her own off the rim and straight down through the netting.
Once again, though, Cook, who led all scorers with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, calmly answered back with a jumper, followed shortly by a remarkable sequence that saw her score five points in five seconds by way of a penetrating drive to the rim, a quick Tufts turnover and a clutch three that left the score at 59-55 with exactly 1:30 to go and the outcome very much in doubt.
Buoyed by their sudden success, the Ephs defended energetically as the Jumbos brought the ball up the court following another timeout but failed to regain possession for nearly a minute on what proved to be the game's most important trip up the court for either side. Bre Dufault pulled down a crucial offensive board following a Foley miss before Morehead hit a running layup off an inbounds pass that came with just four seconds left on the shot clock to ice things for the Jumbos.
In the end, it was too little, too late for the Ephs.
"The last ten minutes we felt good about, and that's what we want to build on heading into tomorrow. But we need that intensity right from the opening tip," said Manning.
Both teams will be back in NESCAC action tomorrow afternoon, as the Ephs travel up to Maine to take on Bates while Tufts will remain at home to square off against Middlebury. Each contest is scheduled to tip off at 4:00 p.m. ET.