AMHERST, Mass. – Amherst built a 23-point halftime lead and never let up during its 79-60 win against Muhlenberg in Friday night’s NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship sectional semifinal match-up.
The Lord Jeffs improved to 29-1 and now will host Babson (30-0) Saturday at 6 p.m. in LeFrak Gymnasium, while the Mules ended their season with a 23-6 record. Amherst bumped its winning streak to 16 games and is unbeaten in its past 48 home contests, as the Lord Jeffs are 11-0 in NCAA Tournament games played in LeFrak.
Muhlenberg overcame a 17-point halftime deficit in the tournament’s second round, but Amherst never let the Mules get closer than 19 in the second half. Kim Fiorentino scored 15 points and Lem Atanga McCormick had 14 as two of five Amherst players in double figures. Muhlenberg’s Kelly McKeon led all players in points (22) and rebounds (8).
Amherst scored the first nine points of the game and took a 16-4 lead when Fiorentino drove in for an uncontested layup. Muhlenberg chipped away and cut its deficit to seven points at 25-18 on a lay-in by Erin Laney, but the Jeffs would hold the Mules scoreless for nearly four minutes while putting together an 11-0 run. Amherst’s lead reached 20 points when Shannon Finucane buried a 3 from the left wing to make it a 44-24 game, and the junior point guard added a free throw after being fouled on the shot.
Amherst was able to hold for the last shot of the first half after forcing a Muhlenberg turnover. Fiorentino couldn’t knock down her attempt from long range, but Atanga McCormick was there for a put-back that brought the score to 47-24 as time expired.
The Jeffs were shooting 54.5 percent at the break but looked even sharper in the beginning of the second half. Sheila Cook hit a layup for the Mules to open the scoring, but Amherst went right back to work and led by 27 (58-31) when Finucane knocked down a 3 with 15:49 to play. The lead was bumped to 28 points when Finucane picked up a steal at half court and passed the ball ahead to Jaci Daigneault who converted a three-point play with 14:45 remaining.
Muhlenberg put together a 5-0 run, but the hosts pushed their lead right back to 28 points. Amherst held a cushion of at least 23 points until a three-point play by Cook made it 74-53 with 3:10 on the clock. Colleen Caldwell followed with a nice move in the paint to cut the visitors’ deficit to 19, but the Lord Jeffs held on for the 79-60 win.
Daigneault, Finucane and Sarah Leyman had 10 points apiece for Amherst, with Leyman also pulling down four boards to become the third player in program history to record 800 rebounds. Jackie Renner dished out six assists for the Jeffs, while Caroline Stedman had three steals.
In addition to McKeon’s 22 points, Cook finished with 12 to highlight the Mules, who shot 50 percent (10-of-20) in the second half.
With Thomas More losing to Washington-St. Louis on Friday, Babson is the only undefeated team remaining in Division III. Saturday will mark the third consecutive year the Beavers face the Lord Jeffs in the national tournament, with Amherst winning the first two.