MEDFORD, Mass. -- In a game that wasn't decided until the final tenths of a second, Tufts earned its first trip to the NCAA Division III semifinals with an exhilarating 61-59 victory against Ithaca on Saturday at Cousens Gym.
Tufts led 58-50 with 1:16 remaining and then had to withstand three 3-pointers by Ithaca in the final 64 seconds and a last-second drive to the basket by the Bombers that bounced off the rim.
The Jumbos (30-1) will play the winner of tonight's national quarterfinal between Montclair State and FDU-Florham in the semifinals at Wisconsin Stevens-Point next Friday. Tufts was led today by 18 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and four assists from junior Hayley Kanner.
Ithaca, narrowly missing a chance to send the game to overtime, finishes its season at 26-5. The Bombers, who were making their first appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals, received 21 points from senior Kathryn Campbell.
Ithaca opened strong, taking an 11-5 lead on a jumper by junior Geena Brady five minutes into the action. The Jumbos erased the lead quickly with a 9-0 run, including six points by Kanner for a 14-11 Tufts lead. That exchange would set the tone for a tightly contested first-half.
The only two times the game went beyond a one-possession margin in the final 11 minutes of the first half were on 3-pointers by Mary Kate Tierney which gave Ithaca leads of 21-16 and 26-21. However, Tufts answered both times on their next trip down the floor and the Jumbos would lead 32-30 at the break.
Kanner had 14 of Tufts' points at halftime, shooting 7 of 12 and adding five rebounds while blocking two shots. She was nearly matched by Tierney, whose three 3-pointers in the first half helped her score 11 points.
The Jumbos looked to be pulling away as the second half wore on. Their lead was just two (39-37) after two free throws by Ithca's Brady at 16:20, but first-year Michela North scored the next six points unanswered and the Jumbos led 45-37 at the 13-minute mark.
Both teams stalled offensively as the clock wound down under 10 minutes, but Tufts built its lead to double figures when a 3-pointer by senior Liz Moynihan made it 52-42 with six minutes left in regulation.
Campbell stepped up for the Bombers and hit two huge back-to-back 3s, cutting the difference down to four at 52-48 with three minutes on the block. The Jumbos would get six of the next eight points, led by four from junior Kelsey Morehead, for the 58-50 lead at 1:16.
Campbell drained another 3, her fifth of the game, and it was 58-53 as the regulation entered its final minute. Tufts couldn't put the win away at the free throw line, and Ithaca took advantage. A trifecta from senior Jenn Escobido with 19 seconds left turned it into a one-possession game at 59-56.
A third last-minute 3 by Tierney with eight seconds on the clock brought it down to a one-point lead for Tufts at 60-59. After Moynihan made one of two at the line for the Jumbos, Ithaca's Ali Ricchiuti incredibly drove to the hoop and attempted a reverse lay-up that did not fall giving Tufts the win.
Kanner and North (11 points, 7 rebounds) gave the Jumbos a huge advantage in the paint, where they out-scored the Bombers 32-12. Morehead finished with 14 points and three assists, while Moyihan had 10 points including three made 3s.
Campbell made eight of 14 shots, including 5-for-6 on 3s, for her 21 points. Tierney once again filled the stat sheet with 16 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Escobido recorded nine points, eight rebounds and two assists. The Bombers hit 10 of 18 3-pointers overall (55.6 percent) and out-rebounded Tufts 41-30.