GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – For the first time in NCAA Division III men's or women's basketball history, two conference opponents met in the championship game. On Saturday night, in the third meeting of the season between the two New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) rivals, Amherst College and Tufts University battled for the 2017 Division III women's basketball title.
Top-seeded Amherst defeated Tufts for the third time this year, claiming a decisive 52-29 victory to earn its second Division III National Title in program history and remain unbeaten on the season. Amherst finishes its season on top, boasting a 33-0 overall record, including a NESCAC Championship title.
"What a battle. What a season," said Amherst head women's basketball coach G.P. Gromacki. "I am so proud of my team for what they accomplished. To battle a great team like Tufts like we did tonight, I think our team really earned it."
Amherst entered the contest ranked first in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 40.3 points per game. Holding the Jumbos to just 29 points the Purple & White set a record for the lowest defensive point total in NCAA Division III men's or women's basketball championship game.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in, but also had faith in our defense to get stops when we needed to," said senior Meredith Doswell (Richmond, Va./St. Catherine's). "It wasn't easy and we had to battle, but we stayed strong and pulled it out to come out on top today.
Behind 11 points by Most Outstanding Player of the finals Ali Doswell (Richmond, Va./St. Catherine's) and its lockdown defense, Amherst earned a comfortable 20-6 halftime advantage. In the first half, Amherst scored nine points on ten Tufts' turnovers, including seven steals by the Purple & White. Despite a third quarter run by the Jumbos, Amherst sunk 14 free throws in the final quarter, outscoring Tufts 20-8, to boost itself to victory.
The Doswell twins ended their basketball careers on top. "It was really special," said Ali Doswell. "To think our whole careers and that we've played together since we were five…it's a fitting way to go out. The whole season prepared us for this."
Neither team would score for the first 3:47 until Amherst's Jaimie Renner (Newton, Mass./Newton North) earned a steal which led to a layup by Ali Doswell. After more scoreless back-and-forth play, Renner fed Meredith Doswell for three-pointer, giving the Purple & White an early 5-0 advantage.
Amherst didn't allow a Jumbos basket until there was 2:21 remaining in the first quarter when Erica DeCandido (North Wales, Pa./Gwynedd Mercy Academy) drove to the hoop and scored Tufts' first points of the game.
Ali Doswell answered for Amherst, knocking down a jumper to give her team a 7-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Amherst's offense heating up in the second quarter, going on a 6-0 run behind two baskets by Hannah Hackley (Westford, Mass./Westford Academy) and one by Jackie Nagle (Colchester, Vt./Cochester), forcing a Tufts timeout.
Out of the break, Amherst continued to control the game, while the Jumbos struggled to get settled in on the offensive end. Two more points by Ali Doswell made the score 15-2. Neither team converted in the next two minutes, while both turned the ball over twice. Ali Doswell drained a deep three, giving Amherst a commanding 18-2 lead with 4:28 remaining in the half.
With 2:25 on the clock, Michela North (Duxbury, Mass./Duxbury) banked in a shot for Tufts' first points of the quarter, but Ali Doswell responded with another bucket for the Purple & White. North scored again with just over a minute remaining, but Amherst headed into the break with an imposing 20-6 lead.
In the first half, Amherst shot 42.9% from the floor, including a 60% second-quarter field goal percentage, while the Jumbos only converted on 15.8% of their shots.
Despite the large halftime deficit, Tufts showed its resilience once again. A three-pointer by Melissa Baptista (Somerville, Mass./Somerville) sparked a 7-0 run for the Jumbos. Tufts got back-to-back stops on the defensive end, forcing a shot clock violation, while Jacqueline Knapp (Westfield, N.J./Westfield) and North scored to maintain the offensive momentum. Tufts now trailed by seven points.
Amherst maintained its composure, responding with an 8-2 run, as Emma McCarthy (Shelton, Conn./Lauralton Hall) scored six straight points, including four free throws.
Following a media timeout, the teams exchanged points, but a triple by Meredith Doswell boosted Amherst's lead to 32-19. After a pair of made foul shots from Baptista, the Purple & White headed into the final quarter with a 32-21 lead.
Amherst didn't let up, coming out strong to score six straight points. McCarthy continued to capitalize from the charity stripe, adding two points for the Purple & White. Amherst's offense was operating as a well-oiled machine, as McCarthy found Madeline Eck (Rye, N.Y./Rye) for a wide-open layup. Meredith Doswell completed the Amherst run, stealing the ball from North and converting on the ensuing fastbreak. Tufts called timeout to break up the momentum, the scoreboard now reading 36-21.
DeCandido hit a jumper coming out of the break, but the Jumbos were unable to match Ali Doswell and Amherst's strong free throw shooting.
Down the stretch, the Purple & White shot 12-14 from the line to roll to a 23-point win.
Ali Doswell showed her Player of the Year award was well-earned, leading all scorers with 21 points (7-15 FG, 1-4 3 PT, 6-6 FT) and four steals. McCarthy finished with 11 points, all coming in the second half, including 9-12 from the free throw line. Meredith Doswell finished one rebound shy of a double-double, posting 10 points and nine boards.
After defeating Christopher Newport 66-51 in Friday's semifinal game, Ali Doswell said that the championship would go to the team that executed better.
The Purple & White shot 40.5% from the floor in the win, holding Tufts to a 24.4% field goal percentage.
The Jumbos handed St. Thomas its first loss of the season in Friday's semifinal, coming back from a 12-point deficit with 5:30 remaining to win 60-67 and earn a spot in the championship game for the second consecutive year. The Tufts finish with an overall record of 30-3, all three of its losses coming to Amherst.
"It's really hard to beat a team three times in a row," said Berube. "We felt really confident coming in because those first games were so close. I guess this proves we really are the number two team in the country. There's nobody else we lost to but the No. 1 team in the nation."
"This shows how great NESCAC basketball really is. We both play a great brand of basketball," said Berube.