DARTMOUTH, Mass.—Trailing by four points with 6:10 to play in the fourth quarter, #2 UMass Boston women's basketball closed the game on a 15-2 run, to earn their first-ever Little East Conference Tournament Championship.
#2 UMass Boston 65, #3 UMass Dartmouth 56
(UMass Boston 25-3)
(UMass Dartmouth 24-4)
HOW IT HAPPENED
After dropping their first two meetings against regionally-ranked UMass Dartmouth, UMass Boston jumped out to a hot start and never let the pressure of the championship game get to them.
The Beacons earned their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament and will find out their fate on Monday at 2:30 p.m. Fans can watch the Division III Women's Basketball Selection Show on NCAA.com
After seeing their 12-point halftime lead cut to one at the end of three quarters, UMass Boston battled for their season in the final 10 minutes. The two teams traded baskets for the opening few minutes before Nakira Examond went off to push the Corsairs lead to 54-50 with 6:10 to go.
UMass Boston turned the tides from there thanks to their defense. The Beacons didn't allow the Corsairs to record another basket until the final 33 seconds,as the Beacons went on a 13-0 run.
LEC Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament Joie Grassi (Plymouth, Mass.) gave the Beacons the lead for good with 2:33 to play and Grassi added five of the Beacons 15 points over the final 6:10 in regulation.
Grassi was superb from the start. She recorded 10 of her game-high 26 points in the opening quarter and added a team-high nine rebounds. The freshman forward went 8-18 from the field and 9-10 from the free throw line. She tacked on two assists, one steal and two blocks.
Fellow freshman Geanna Williams (Cromwell, Conn.) also put together one of the best games of her career. Charged with trying to slow down UMass Dartmouth's Nakira Examond, Williams finished with 10 points on 5-6 shooting and eight rebounds in 23 minutes.
Freshman Shania Osborne (Fairfield, Conn.) also helped slow down Examond and chipped in five points and six rebounds.
Examond, the reigning LEC Player of the Year, finished with 25 points and a game-high 16 rebounds. Senior Leah Douty added 15 points in 37 minutes for the Corsairs, who had been 16-0 against LEC opponents prior to today.
After struggling out of the gate in each of the first two meetings, the Beacons took it to the Corsairs in the first half. UMass Boston leapt out to a 19-12 lead after 10 minutes and pushed their advantage to 33-21 at the break.
UMass Dartmouth actually led 6-2 early on, before the Beacons went on a 13-4 run. Katie Mathieu (Coventry, Conn.) and Williams scored the first five points, before Grassi followed with three made baskets and two free throws to give UMass Boston a 15-10 lead.
Grassi and Dixon added layups to end the quarter to give the Beacons a 19-12 lead.
The Beacons never let the Corsairs back into the game in the second, as they held on to at least a two-possession lead, before Jalani Jackson (Brockton, Mass.) knocked down a 3-pointer just before the break (33-21).
UMass Dartmouth came out of halftime on fire. The Corsairs outscored the Beacons 22-11 in the third and shot 45 percent (9-20), compared to the Beacons 3-10 showing. Examond and Douty combined for 16 of the 22 points to get the hosts within 44-43 after 30 minutes.
The Corsairs carried the momentum into the final stanza and looked like they were going to pull away midway through the quarter. Examond hit two early baskets to give her team the lead and then added two more layups to extend the lead to four on two occasions.
The game changed in part due to foul trouble. Examond was whistled for her third and fourth fouls within 20 seconds of each other, and was forced to go to the bench with 5:10 to play and her team up 54-50.
UMass Boston tied the game at 54 with Examond on the bench, forcing her to come back into the game with 3:16 to play.
Grassi gave the Beacons the edge with 2:33 left (55-54) and three possessions later Examond fouled out when Raven Kelsey (Boston, Mass.) made a key steal with 1:50 left.
The Beacons hit 8-10 free throws from there and forced four turnovers to close out their first conference championship win.
BY THE NUMBERS
- Today's win marked the Beacons program record 25th of the season and the 50th career win for third-year head coach Kristina Baugh (50-32).
- The Beacons shot 40 percent from the field (22-55), while holding UMass Dartmouth to a 22-71 mark (31 percent). In the previous two meetings, UMass Boston was held to 27.7 percent (18-65) and 31.7 percent (20-64).
- With the win, UMass Boston improves to 27-52 all-time against UMass Dartmouth.
- Lydia Vital (Cambridge, Mass.), Grassi, Mathieu and Williams all tied the single-season program record by playing in their 28th game of the season.
- Vital earned her second-straight LEC Championship. She helped Keene State College win their first-ever LEC Tournament Title a season ago.
- Mathieu tied the program record for overall games played on Saturday. She and former teammate Katrina Edwards ('17) have both played in 108 career games.
- The Beacons bench outscored UMass Dartmouth's 17-4.
- Grassi averaged 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in three conference tournament wins. She also shot 20-38 (52.6 percent) from the field and 10-12 (83.3 percent) from the charity stripe.
UMass Boston will learn their NCAA Tournament first-round opponent on Monday at 2:30 p.m. The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will be available on NCAA.com.