Against No. 7 Jeffs, Warriors stay within striking distance for 30 minutes
AMHERST, Mass. - The No. 7 nationally-ranked Amherst College women's basketball team never trailed and won its seventh straight game this year, but against an Eastern Connecticut State University team with 15 first and second-year players, it wasn't particularly impressive.
At left: In her return home Thursday night, freshman Brianna Leonard netted a career-high 14 points against the hometown team.
Tuesday night at LeFrak Gymnasium, Amherst (7-0) - coming off four straight trips to the NCAA Division III Final Four -- needed a a 14-3 second half run over a five-minute span to turn away rebuilding Eastern (2-6), which was playing its third road game in six days.
Eastern senior forward Shannon McCourt (New Fairfield) led all scorers with 25 points - three shy of her career-high -- and eight rebounds, while freshman forward Brianna Leonard (Amherst, MA) had a career-high 14 points (6-for-11 from the floor) and four boards in her return home, and sophomore guard Kristina Forsman (Newington) ten points, five boards and four assists. The 20-point game was the first of this year but eighth in 25 career games for McCourt, who connected on 11 of 19 field goals and all three of her free throws and turned the ball over only twice in 35 minutes.
The Warriors never led in the game but managed to trim six points off a nine-point deficit thanks to a 13-7 run over six minutes in the second half. McCourt's layup and jump shot made it a three-point game with just over 13 minutes left, after which the Warriors went scoreless over a five-minute span (0-for-5 from the floor, 0-for-2 from the line) and trailed by 13 with nine minutes left. They would not be able to cut that deficit to single digits the rest of the way.
After averaging over 20 turnovers in a stretch of four straight losses earlier this year, Eastern has given the ball away only 20 times in the last two games, including a season-low nine against Amherst.
Ahead 21-16 with just under five to play in the half, sophomore Megan Robertson connected on a jumper before senior Jasmine Hardy drained a three-pointer from the top of the key to give the Jeffs their first double-digit lead.
A free throw by Eastern freshman Jill Ritrosky (Pittsfield, MA) coupled with a McCourt three-point play pared Amherst's lead to six, but a Crowley jumper on the ensuing Amherst possession stretched the lead to 28-20. Still down eight after a Robertson layup at 1:47, Leonard netted the final points of the frame, hitting a pair from the charity stripe to cut it to 32-26 at the intermission.
Hardy opened the second half scoring with her second trey of the evening, but McCourt quickly trimmed the deficit to five with consecutive buckets. Once again behind by nine after a Voigt triple, McCourt continued to attack, scoring six of ECSU's next eight points to pull the visitors within three at 42-39.
Leonard had a chance to further cut into the lead, but missed a pair of free throws after an Amherst foul at 12:52. Hoping to take advantage, sophomore Savannah Holness converted two of her attempts from the charity stripe before hitting a layup to kick-start the Jeffs' decisive run. Hardy kept things rolling with a basket at the 10:24 mark before a Robertson jumper helped the Amherst lead swell to 11.
Senior Marcia Voigt made it 52-39 with a couple of free throws, before Forsman ended a 5:25 Warrior field goal drought with a jumper at 7:49. Trailing by 14 after a Holness layup with just over six minutes remaining in regulation, Eastern battled back to within 10 on a McCourt jumper with 2:21 on the clock, but Crowley hit back-to-back baskets to stem the visitors' comeback bid.
Despite shooting 46.0 percent (23-of-50) from the field, Eastern converted just 45.0 percent (9-of-20) from the free-throw line, including 3-of-12 in the second half.
Voigt paced Amherst with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists, while senior Bridget Crowley added 14 points and seven boards. Robertson hit 6-of-11 attempts for 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, while Hardy rounded out the list of Jeffs in double figures with 11 points.
Eastern visits Rhode Island College Saturday in a Little East Conference game at 1 p.m., the fourth of six consecutive road contests for the Warriors.