Bear Bryant was right: Defense wins championships. Just ask the women of Amherst College, the NCAA Div. III National Basketball Champions. The Purple and White held their arch rivals from Tufts to 2 points in the first quarter and 4 in the second in what turned into a 52-29 rout in Grand Rapids March 18. Amherst, the national leader in defense allowing just 40 points per game, held the Jumbos to 24 percent from the floor and one of 17 from beyond the arch.

All-American Ali Doswell scored a game-high 21 points to lead the champs. The also hauled in five caroms and four steals. Twin sister Meredith added 10 points and a team-best nine rebounds.

Emma McCarthy added 11 points and five rebounds for the Purple and White.

Tufts All-American Michela North had a little help from the rest of the Jumbos. Amherst's stifling defense didn’t let the ball go inside to North, and the other starters combined to go two of 25 from the floor. North finished with14 points and ten rebound. The normally reliable Melissa Baptista, who average 12.5 points per game, was only one for 14. The shot she made was one of her eight 3-point attempts. Baptista shot 35 percent from long distance on the season.

The title game left no doubt as to which conference is the best this year. Both teams hail from the New England Small College Athletic Conference. The 2016-17 NCAA championship was the first time in NCAA Division III men’s and women’s basketball history that two teams from the same conference competed for the national title.

This was the third meeting between the teams this season, and the other two were nail bitters. Another NESCAC team, Bowdoin, was also in NCAA invitee. The Jumbos have advanced to the Final Four in four consecutive seasons. This marked the second consecutive year Tufts (30-3) walked away from a bridesmaid.

Final four action

The Jumbos ended their last four games on a 19-4 run rallying past previously undefeated St. Thomas (MN) 60-57 March 17. A Baptista layup knotted the score at 55-55 with 1:16 to play. Then Jac Knapp stole the ball with 54 seconds left and hit the three-pointer from with 32 seconds left, putting the Jumbos ahead for good at 58-55.

Lucia Renikoff buried a jumper with 11 ticks left pulling the Tommies to within 58-57, but Tuft’s Lauren Dillon hit the front end of two foul situations to lock up the game.

St. Thomas (31-1) entered the game with the most potent offense in the final four. Tufts countered with the second best defense in D3. Although the Tommies held a 46-22 rebounding advantage, the Jumbos forced twice as many turnovers (20-9). Tufts blocked eight shots, including six by North.

Div. 3 Player-of-the-Year Kaitlin Langer finished with game highs of 20 points and 20 rebounds in spite of the defensive effort. Baptista paced the Jumbos with 16 points. North contributed 11 points and nine boards. Knapp added 11 points.

The Richmond, VA, native Doswell twins were not kind to their home state fellow travelers from Newport News when Christopher Newport faced Amherst in the semifinals. Ali scored 16 points, Meredith added nine boards and Madeline Ekc contributed 11 points as the Purple and White outclassed the Captains (29-3) 66-51. Sam Porter led the Captains with 16 points including 10-for-10 shooting at the foul line.

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