SENSATIONAL SEASON ENDS IN NATIONAL QUARTERFINALS
AMHERST, Mass. - The Emmanuel College Women's Basketball Team's incredible NCAA Tournament run ended on Saturday night with an 84-61 loss to defending national champion Amherst College. A crowd of 650 filled Amherst's LeFrak Gymnasium, as the top-ranked Lord Jeffs improved to a perfect 31-0 on the year, while the Saints ended their season at 25-7. Amherst will now advance to the NCAA Division III Final Four, making the program's fourth consecutive appearance in the national semifinals.
Emmanuel's win over King's College (Pa.) and Amherst's victory over York College (Pa.) on Friday night in the Sweet Sixteen paired the only two remaining New England programs against each other in tonight's NCAA Elite Eight match-up. With the Jeffs entering the game without a loss in LeFrak Gymnasium since the 2008-09 season, the Saints immediately felt the home court pressure.
Amherst senior forward Lem Atanga McCormick quickly put the Jeffs out in front, scoring Amherst's first ten points of the night. She pushed the Amherst lead to 20-8 on her third three-pointer of the first half. Emmanuel's junior forward Fiona O'Dwyer kept the Saints in the game and brought the score to 27-18 after back-to-back layups, but the Jeffs' lead hovered between 14 and 16 during a six-minute stretch late in the opening period.
The final points of the first half came when Jasmine Hardy drained a tough three despite getting knocked to the floor, giving Amherst a 45-28 lead at the break. O'Dwyer had 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting, but the rest of Emmanuel was 3-for-21 and combined for only 12 points. Atanga McCormick had 13 points at the break, as the Jeffs went 5 for 9 from downtown.
Senior co-captain Breanna Ockimey knocked down a three-pointer for Emmanuel out of the gate, but Amherst continued to have an answer for every big shot by the Saints. Atanga McCormick and Jackie Renner connected on back-to-back threes to make it a 59-38 game with 15:28 remaining. The scrappy Saints showed heart down the stretch, but were never able to get within striking distance.
The Jeffs led Emmanuel by double digits for the majority of Saturday's game and were ahead by at least 21 for the final 12:21. McCormick wrapped up an outstanding weekend with 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, accounting for half of Amherst's three-pointers by going 4-for-5 from behind the arc.
Megan Robertson finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for Amherst, while pre-season All-American Caroline Stedman added 17 points. Renner chipped in with 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and three blocks in one of her most efficient performances of the season, with Kim Fiorentino adding six rebounds and a game-high six assists.
After pouring in 24 points, including the 1,000th of her collegiate career in last night's sectional win, O'Dwyer nearly eclipsed her career-high tonight with 27 points in her 38-minute effort. The junior went 11 for 12 from the line and hauled in a game-high 13 rebounds for her 8th double-double of the season.
Emmanuel's senior duo of Ockimey and fellow co-captain Meghan Kirwan played in their final collegiate contests, capping off two amazing careers with the Saints. Kirwan finished the night with 13 points and 7 boards, while Ockimey notched 11 points and 4 rebounds. With time dwindling late in the game, the two were subbed out for the final time, leaving the court to standing ovations from camps.
Saturday night's game marked the final home contest for Amherst's six seniors, who finished with a 76-1 record in LeFrak Gymnasium and will leave the program with a 67-game home win streak to protect. The Lord Jeffs will carry a 50-game overall unbeaten streak out to the Final Four in Michigan, with 10 of those wins coming in NCAA tournament play.
Amherst will take on George Fox University (31-0) next Friday. The Bruins punched their ticket to the Final Four with a 71-55 win over Bowdoin College on Friday and a convincing 68-45 victory over previously unbeaten Mary Washington in tonight's Sectional finals. George Fox also has a national title to their credit, as they finished the 2008-09 season at 32-0.
Just one other athletic team at Emmanuel advanced further in the NCAA Tournament than this year's women's hoop squad. With a total of more than 430 Division III women's basketball programs in the country, the 2011-12 Saints finished their season as one of the final eight teams remaining in the tournament. The Saints posted three NCAA Tournament wins, surprising everyone by advancing four rounds deep into the big dance. Emmanuel's tournament-run rallied supporters nationwide, as Saints' fans were treated to the madness of March.