NORTHAMPTON — Two years ago, the Smith College basketball team’s journey to the NCAA Division 3 Women’s Sweet 16 came to a screeching halt with the advent of the pandemic. Now, with another opportunity before them, the Pioneers have no trouble embracing the “unfinished business” theme.
Smith opened a close game Saturday night with a 25-12 advantage in the fourth quarter, courtesy of a timely and deadly 3-point shot, and clinched his ticket to next weekend’s National Round of 16 with a victory of 76-58 in the second round over Brooklyn College in a lively and festive Ainsworth Gymnasium.
“I’m proud of this crew for staying stable and finding the fourth quarter as a way to create separation and make a big run,” Pioneers coach Lynn Hersey said. “Brooklyn really pushed us. We feel very happy to be sitting in that seat tonight. It was a great environment.”
Ally Yamada and Jessie Ruffner each hit a pair of 3-pointers in quick succession, within 4:43 of the fourth quarter, allowing the Pioneers to extend a narrow 3-point lead to 17 with a 16-2 run. .
Next Friday, Smith (25-2) will face Wisconsin-Whitewater (25-4) at a site and time yet to be determined. Whitewater beat Illinois Wesleyan, 72-54, Saturday night to qualify.
Morgan Morrison, in just his second start of the season, led four Pioneers in double figures with 16 points and 10 rebounds. She followed up her 21-point, 10-rebound double-double off the bench in Friday night’s first-round win over Framingham State. Yamada had 14, including four treys in the second half, Katelyn Pickunka added her own double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Ruffner finished with 12. Amelia Clairmont dropped three deep for her nine points.
Smith hit 52 percent from the field (25 of 48) and 11 of 25 from beyond the arc, while limiting Brooklyn to 38 percent (23 of 60). The Pioneers held a 33-27 rebounding advantage.
Chanel Jemmott scored a game-high 22 points with eight rebounds for Brooklyn (22-4) before committing a late foul. Gianna Gotti added 13 and also had eight rebounds.
After Gotti scored the first field goal of the game, Clairmont fired Smith with 3 straight points, Morrison scored on a backhand and made two free throws, and Ruffner hit a pair of jumpers as the Pioneers went out 14-6. Pickunka then scored the final six points of the quarter to make it 20-9 after one.
Brooklyn had the first 10 points of the second quarter, courtesy of a post-up, back-to-back treys from Jemmott and a base hook from Mary Dolgin for the score at 20-19. The Pioneers responded behind five points from Morrison and a trey from Dashelle Gleissner (six points, seven assists) to go ahead 28-20, and still trail by eight, 34-26, before Dolgin scored the final five of the halftime for the Bulldogs. .
Gleissner scored another 3-pointer early in the third to make it 39-33, but Brooklyn came back in front on a 7-0 run to take its first lead since 2-0. Gotti made two at the line and a foul line jumper and Jemmott converted a 3-point play for the Bulldogs 40-39 advantage. The visitors still led 44-42 before Smith landed nine straight, capped by Yamada’s second 3-pointer of the night. Gotti’s late jumper from the right corner gave Smith a 51-46 lead in the fourth.
It was then that the Pioneers found their range. Morrison’s lay-up and Ruffner’s left-wing three gave the hosts a 56-48 lead. Jemmott scored on a turnover for Brooklyn, but Smith scored the next 11 unanswered – helped by two treys from Yamada and one from Ruffner – to make it 67-50, forcing Brooklyn coach Alex Lang to call time dead with 3:41 to cheek.
“They made us pay by hitting their punches,” Lang said. “They were able to get the ball in the post against our area and drive us down the baseline. We had to force things. We don’t see a lot of man-to-man (defense) in our league, and some of our timing and our spacing were off.”
“That’s key when you’re facing an area,” Hersey said. “It was good for us to be able to hit a few shots early and then we hit a few shots late. It created a great look for everyone.”
Smith’s lead grew to 74-52 before the deep reserves could close out the game for both teams.
“It was definitely a huge plus for us, playing in front of an amazing crowd. The fans always get us started early in the game,” said Westhampton senior resident and Hampshire regional product Pickunka. “I’m very happy with the opportunity we’ve had and can’t wait to find out where we’ll be playing next weekend.”
“It’s definitely unfinished business,” sophomore Ruffner said. “I felt something special in my first year with this team, and I wanted four years. I knew I was coming back to a team that was ready to work, even after a year without playing. I knew we would be back where we wanted to be, and we’re excited to be back.”
The Mammoths switch to the Sweet 16.
Amherst College women’s basketball team struggled on the ground in their Round of 16 game against St. John Fisher College, but their defense held them in place for a 56-48 win at the LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst on Saturday.
The Mammoths (23-3) advanced to face Tufts in the Round of 16 on Friday. The game should be replayed at LeFrak Gymnasium.
This is the 14th consecutive Sweet 16 appearance for the Mammoths, who have eight trips to the national semifinals and three national championships during that span.
Amherst outplayed the Cardinals in every quarter, leading 15-11 after one, 27-21 at halftime and 39-31 after three quarters. He did so despite shooting 30.9 percent from the field and knocking down just 4 of 20 from downtown.
Gabrielle Zaffiro led the way with 13 points in the win. AnLing Vera had 12 points, Reeya Patel and Dani Valdez each had eight points and Lauren Pelosi scored seven points for the Mammoths.