Lord Jeffs Fall to TCNJ 82-74 in Consolation Game

team picture
The Amherst College women's basketball team wrapped
the best season in program history at the Final Four.

HOLLAND, MI – The Amherst College women’s basketball team closed out the best season in program history this afternoon with a hard-fought 82-74 loss to The College of New Jersey in the 2009 NCAA Tournament Consolation Game. Despite dropping to 0-2 this weekend at the “Final Four,” Amherst set program marks in numerous categories this season.

Amherst’s bid for the National Championship ended yesterday with a 65-49 loss at the hands of Washington University in St. Louis, while TCNJ fell to undefeated George Fox University in the other national semifinal. Today’s match-up featured a pair of WBCA All-Americans as Amherst sophomore forward Jaci Daigneault (Guilford, CT) went toe-to-toe with the WBCA Division III National Player of the Year, Hillary Klimowicz from TCNJ.

On the first possession of the game, Amherst forced a traveling violation from Klimowicz with a double-team, before Daigneault finished inside to put the Jeffs on the board. After another turnover from TCNJ, Daigneault finished off a three-point play the old fashioned way. The Lions’ third possession ended with another turnover, this time on a Daigneault steal for a breakaway lay-up. After two minutes of the game, Amherst held a 7-1 lead, with all of the Jeffs’ points coming from Daigneault.

Amherst’s lead grew to 10-3 on a triple from Courtney Long (Norwich, CT) on the left wing, before TCNJ answered as Klimowicz found Kelsey Kutch under the basket. On the next trip, Klimowicz found Kutch at the elbow for a score. The Lord Jeffs responded with a put-back score from Kim Fiorentino (Holmdel, NJ).

With 11:42 to play in the half, TCNJ tied the game 12-12 on a three from Lisa Koch on the left wing. After an Amherst turnover, the Lions took their first lead of the game on a 1-for-2 trip to the line by Alex Gregorek. Amherst rookie point guard Shannon Finucane (Cortland, NY) cut the TCNJ lead down to 15-14 with a lay-up in traffic at the 9:12 mark, only to see the Koch respond with a score in the paint.

With 7:48 to play, Amherst first-year Lem Atanga McCormick (Chicago, IL) hit a mid-range jumper to tie the game 171-17. The Lord Jeffs regained the lead with just over six and a half minutes to play in the first, as sophomore Sarah Leyman (Cincinnati, OH) put-back a Fiorentino miss.

TCNJ opened up a 23-19 lead with just over four minutes to play in the first half, before Keri Washington hit a jumper to put the Lions up six points. Neither team scored a field goal in the final 3:11 of the half, with TCNJ heading into the break up 27-21 after a pair of Klimowicz free throws.

At the half, Amherst was led offensively by Daigneault with those seven early points, while Fiorentino pulled down five rebounds. Gregorek paced the Lions with seven points, while Kutch and Klimowicz each had six points for TCNJ.

After a Klimowicz score to start the second half, Long responded for Amherst by stepping into a mid-range jumper. On the next TCNJ possession, Klimowicz found Alyssa Michella for a triple, and her fourth assist out of the Amherst double-team. With 18:12 to play in the second half, Fiorentino dropped home a second put-back to cut the lead to 32-25, before Klimowicz dropped in another left-handed score.

Finucane cut the margin to six points with a triple from the left side, before Amherst got a stop on the defensive end. After a pair of Leyman free throws, Amherst forced a turnover in the corner of the backcourt. On the ensuing Lord Jeff possession, Finucane was fouled going to the hoop, but missed both free throws. After an offensive rebound and a scramble under the hoop, Finucane drew another foul with 16:29 to play. This time, the 85% free throw shooter made both to close the gap to 34-32.

The Class of 2009 lead Amherst to its first Final Four.
Finucane poked away back-to-back steals on the next two TCNJ possessions, with Leyman tying the game 34-34 in between. After a score by Gregorek and a stop on the defensive end from TCNJ, Klimowicz batted an offensive rebound straight Michella for a three.  With 13:42 to play, Klimowicz found Michella again for a short jumper to put the Lions back up 41-34.

Amherst first-year Caroline Stedman (Walpole, MA) hit a three from the left corner to end a 7-0 TCNJ run, and close the gap to 41-37. On the next Jeff possession, senior co-captain Amanda Otieno (Gloucester, MA) found Stedman for another triple. Otieno hit a pull-up jumper with 11:50 to play, closing the deficit to 45-42.

After an Amherst timeout, Michella banked home a deep three from straight away, with Amherst responding on a triple by Fiorentino. With 10:04 to play in the second half, Daigneault went 1-for-1 at the free throw line, but kept the Amherst possession alive by grabbing her own rebound. The Jeffs were unable to capitalize, and trailed 50-48 as the mid-point of the second half passed by.

With 9:09 to play, Atanga McCormick finished off a Stedman assist despite taking a very hard foul from Gregorek. Atanga McCormick was unable to shoot the free throw, as Finucane came off the bench to tie the game 51-51 with the single free throw. TCNJ responded with a three-point play of their own, before opening up a 59-56 lead on another Klimowicz three-point play.

Amherst responded with back-to-back triples from Finucane and Long to close the gap to 60-59. After forcing another turnover from the Lions, Daigneault put the Jeffs back on top with a three-point play inside with 6:17 to play. At 62-60 with 6:15 to play in the second half, Amherst took its first lead since 6:45 to play in the first half.

After Klimowicz pulled down a pair of offensive rebounds en route to another score, Atanga MCCormick rattled home a jumper to keep Amherst up. Atanga McCormick and Gregorick traded jumpers to tie the game at 68-68 with less than four minutes to play. A Finucane free throw with 3:37 to play put the Jeffs up 69-68, before head coach G.P. Gromacki called a timeout. Coming out of the stoppage, TCNJ’s Michella hit a three in transition to put the Lions up 71-69.

With Amherst trailing 74-70, Finucane was whistled for an offensive foul to hand the ball back to TCNJ with just 1:53 to play. Amherst remained down four points at 75-71 after a free throw from Daigneault, before the Amherst All-American stole the ball to give the Jeffs the ball back. Finucane made 1-of-2 at the line for the Jeffs on the ensuing possession, leaving Amherst down 75-73 with 1:12 showing on the clock.

After a near steal from Stedman, Klimowicz finished a three-point play to open up a 78-72 lead with less than a minute showing. Fiorentino scored on another put-back to leave the Jeffs down 78-74 with 40.0 remaining in regulation, and the ball going back to TCNJ.

Amherst was forced to foul Karen Lassoni, who made both free throws, before a deep Fiorentino three missed the mark. With 27.7 seconds left, Amherst fouled Klemowicz, who made both at the line. The Jeffs continued to play hard and push for threes, but were unable to cut into the lead as time ticked away on an 83-74 TCNJ win.

At game’s end, Finucane scored a team-high 16 points to lead Amherst, while Daigneault and Atanga McCormick put home 14 and 12, respectively, while grabbing eight rebounds apiece. Klimowicz was a good as advertised, finished with game-highs in points (26) with rebounds (12) and assists (6). After the conclusion of the game, Daigneault was named to D3Hoops.com's All-American Second Team.

With the loss, Amherst falls to 29-4 on the season, closing the books on the single best year in program history. Today’s was the final game in the careers of seniors Oteino, Yasmine Harik (New York, NY), Stacy Brossy (Lukachukai, AZ) and Susannah Ludwig (Charlottesville, VA). The class of 2009 will be credited with providing invaluable leadership in Amherst’s emergence on the national scene during the last two seasons, and leave the team in very capable hands going forward.