|Makenzie Mason||Bridgette Mann||Sofia Recupero|
SCRANTON - In what was the 100th NCAA Tournament game all-time for The University of Scranton women's basketball program, the Lady Royals captured one of the more memorable victories in team history on Saturday evening, as they scored the final 15 points of regulation to conquer Tufts, 44-40, in the 2019 NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Sectional Finals in the John Long Center.
With the victory, Scranton, now 29-2 overall and winners of 10 games in a row, move into 2019 NCAA Division III Final Four, an event they will play in for the ninth time in program history and the first time since 2006. In Friday's National Semifinals, the Lady Royals will take on No. 1 Thomas More at the Cregger Center on the campus of Roanoke College at a time to be announced.
Tufts ends their season with a 28-3 overall mark with the tough defeat.
All night long, defense was the name of the game, as two of the best defensive teams in the country played incredibly all evening.
In the first quarter, only 13 combined points were scored, as Scranton held a 7-6 edge entering the second. It was more of the same there, as the visiting Jumbos outscored Scranton, 10-8, hitting a shot at the first half buzzer to take a 16-15 lead on the Lady Royals entering intermission.
To open the second half, Scranton still led to start the third quarter (21-18), but the Jumbos proceeded to go on a 13-0 run over the next three minutes to open the first double-digit lead of the night for any team at 31-21 with 3:40 to go in the period. Scranton punched back with a 5-0 run of their own to make it a 31-26 game, then cut the deficit to four points (33-29) late in the quarter. But, Tufts scored the final basket of the period to take a 35-29 lead into the fourth.
There, the Jumbos began on a 5-0 run, opening their biggest lead of the game at 40-29 with 8:04 left after Caitlin Montgomery made a layup.
This proved to be, amazingly, the final time on the 2018-19 season that Tufts would score.
First, freshman Hannah Kowalski (Clarks Summit, Pa./Abington Heights) made a jumper with 6:48 left (after a Tufts miss) to make it a 40-31 game. After another Jumbo miss, sophomore Taylor Rodriguez (Wayne, N.J./Wayne Hills) made a lay-up of her own, making it a 40-33 game.
Scranton then forced a Tufts turnover, and senior Bridgette Mann (Canadensis, Pa./Wallenpaupack) made a lay-up on the Scranton end to cut the Tufts lead to five points (40-35) with 4:52 left. After the teams traded missed baskets, junior Makenzie Mason (Doylestown, Pa./Central Bucks West) nailed the biggest shot of her career, sinking a three-pointer with 2:52 left to slice the Tufts lead down to 40-38.
28 seconds later, Scranton forced Tufts to miss another lay-up, and on the other end, junior Sofia Recupero (Whitestone, N.Y./St. Francis Prep) converted to tie the game at 40-40 with 2:03 left, sending the Long Center into a frenzy after the Jumbos called a timeout with 1:55 left.
On the ensuing possession, Scranton forced another missed Tufts missed layup, and on the offensive end, Mann was fouled, and proceeded to sink a pair of free throws to give the Lady Royals their first lead since early in the third quarter at 42-40 with 1:14 left.
With 47 seconds left, junior Emily Sheehan (Dunmore, Pa./Dunmore) made a critical block on a Tufts shot that gave the Lady Royals the ball back. But, on the offensive end, Sheehan missed a lay-up of her own, giving Tufts a chance to either tie or take the lead with 26 seconds left.
But, as they had done seemingly the whole night and for eight straight minutes, the Scranton defense held, forcing a missed three that was rebounded by Mason. After being fouled, she drained a pair of free throws to give the Lady Royals a four-point edge with five seconds left.
On Tufts' final possession, they missed their 10th and 11th straight shots from the floor as the final buzzer sounded, as Scranton went on an incredible 15-0 run over the final 8:04 of the game to gut out a four-point win and punch their ticket to Salem and the Final Four.
Overall, Mason led the way once again for Scranton, finishing with a game-high 14 points and seven rebounds. Mann, in her triumphant last game ever inside the Long Center as a Lady Royal, finished with nine points and eight rebounds, while Recupero also had nine points and pulled down nine rebounds, a team-high.
But, the star of the show (as it has been for most of the year) was the incredible Lady Royals defense, that held Tufts scoreless for most of the fourth quarter and to just 15 made baskets the entire game (15-of-61 from the field, 24.6 percent). And, after being outrebounded by Christopher Newport on Friday night, the Lady Royals outrebounded the Jumbos, 40-38, in the victory, as well, while outscoring Tufts, 22-10, inside the paint.
The Lady Royals will now pack their bags and head south on Interstate-81 later next week in preparation for their Final Four match-up with Thomas More in Salem on Friday night. The Saints, who are the lone unbeaten in all of NCAA Division III at 31-0, advanced to the National Semifinals with their 87-72 win over Washington St. Louis tonight.
More information on The University of Scranton women's basketball teams journey to the 2019 Final Four will be posted throughout the week at athletics.scranton.edu.