Thomas More beats Tufts for 2nd straight D-III title
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Offensive powerhouse Thomas More turned to its defense to cap off an undefeated season with a second straight Division III national championship.
Abby Owings scored 17 points and Sydney Moss, the tournament's most outstanding player, added 14 to lead the Saints to a 63-51 win over Tufts on Monday night. It was the Saints' 66th consecutive victory.
''We are going to take everybody's best shots, we know that,'' said coach Jeff Hans. ''Our players and our guys rose to the challenge every time.''
The game was tied at 49 with just 6 1/2 minutes left. But a steal and fast-break layup by Moss put the Saints back on top, sparking a decisive 10-0 run.
Michela North scored 10 points and Maura Folliard added nine to lead Tufts (28-4), which was looking for its first national title.
Undefeated Lubbock Christian won the Division II title earlier Monday and a win by UConn on Tuesday would have unbeaten teams win all three women's titles for just the third time in history (2014, 1995).
The Saints (33-0) entered the court to chants of ''Back-to-back'' from the large contingent of supporters who made the two-hour trip up Interstate 74 from Crestview Hills, Kentucky to Indianapolis. Toward the end of the game, the Thomas More fans began chanting, ''We want UConn.''
But Tufts gave the Saints all they could handle.
Thomas More hit just three of its first 15 shots and the Jumbos, using their signature stifling defense, jumped out to a 17-11 lead after a quarter.
''We would have liked to have pushed that, but they kind of crawled their way back, kept scoring,'' said North. ''We couldn't really get a stop for a while and they'd just go on runs. They are an emotional team.''
The game was played at Tufts' pace. Thomas More led just 32-26 at the half. The Jumbos have the second best defense in Division III and give up an average of about 44 points a game.
The Saints, who average 92 points a game, normally shoot almost 50 percent from the field. They were held to 36 percent in this one.
Moss, the three-time Division III national player of the year, hit just four of her 14 shots. But the Saints got 13 points from Nikki Keirnan and 10 from Madison Temple.
It was the Saints defense that made the difference late. They forced three turnovers and four missed shots during the final half of the fourth quarter.
''I think we all just had that look in our eyes, like, `OK it's time to buckle down and get stops on defense and make plays on offense for each other and obviously we did that,'' Moss said.
The teams also met in last year's national semifinals, with Thomas More winning, 62-52.
Thomas More: Moss scored 23 of Thomas More's 62 points a year ago against Tufts, grabbing 11 rebounds, with three assists and three steals. The Saints defeated Amherst, the best defensive team in the Division III semifinals, 74-65.
Tufts: Coach Carla Berube played on UConn's first national championship team in 1995. Her former coach, Geno Auriemma, his current team and a number of former UConn stars were in the audience.
''I saw a few of them at the end still cheering for us,'' Berube said. ''It means a lot. It means once a family member, always a family member.''