Athletics

Jeffs Fall to George Fox in Semifinals, 76-69

Amherst
Amherst hung with George Fox until the
very end on Friday. (Photo by Tim Fuller)

Contact: Justin Long

HOLLAND, Mich. – The Amherst College women’s basketball team’s winning streak finally came to an end at 50 games, as the Lord Jeffs suffered a 76-69 loss to George Fox University in the NCAA Division III Championship semifinals on Friday.

The battle of unbeatens lived up to the hype, but it was the Bruins who improved to 32-0 and advanced to take on Illinois Wesleyan University in Saturday’s title game. The Lord Jeffs move to 31-1 with their first loss in more than a year and will face St. Thomas tomorrow at 4 p.m. in the third-place matchup.

Amherst held a 37-36 lead at the break, but the Bruins opened the second half on a 7-0 run and never let the Jeffs regain control. The Jeffs tied the game for the final time at 64-64, but a 6-0 spurt by George Fox in the final minutes proved to be the difference.

George Fox’sHannah Munger entered the weekend as a 53.2 percent free throw shooter, but the 6’5 center knocked down her first 14 attempts at the line en route to 36 points and 13 rebounds in an incredibly dominant performance.

“She made the plays and she made the shots when she needed to,” said Amherst head coach G.P. Gromacki after the game. “It was her night.”

Caroline Stedman ’12 scored 22 points for Amherst and Marcia Voigt ’13 added 15, but the Jeffs struggled at the line in the first half and shot only 30.8 percent overall in the second. Amherst began the day leading all of Division III in field goal percentage defense (.293), but Munger, Keisha Gordon and Megan Arnoldy combined to shoot 22-of-33 (.667) for 62 points.

The loss was the Jeffs’ first since Jan. 11, 2011, as they had put together the third longest win streak in Division III history. The Class of 2012 moves to 124-7 in the past four years and will have a chance for win number 125 on Saturday, but Amherst’s seniors already hold the Division III record for wins in a four-year span.

The game’s opening minute featured classic Amherst. The Jeffs forced a turnover that led to a Stedman spin move for two points at the other end, and Lem Atanga McCormick ’12 casually added a three-pointer on their next possession. George Fox’s full-court pressure led to a barrage of three-pointers for Amherst, which hit three from long range in the early going and jumped out to an 18-10 lead at 13:18.

Stedman
Caroline Stedman '12 led Amherst with 22 points.

The Bruins countered Amherst’s hot shooting by going inside to Munger, who scored 12 straight points for her team and added another four before being taken out with two fouls to her name. The 6’5 center seemed unstoppable, as she scored 16 points in only 12 minutes after shooting 5-for-6 overall and 6-for-6 at the line.

Amherst held a 24-22 lead when Munger was subbed out, but the Bruins picked up their intensity and put together a 10-3 run with balanced scoring. With George Fox creating a five-point cushion at 32-27, Voigt got the Jeffs back in the game with a three-pointer, igniting a 10-2 spurt that gave Amherst a 37-34 edge. Megan Arnoldy gave the Bruins the final points of the half on a layup that cut Amherst’s deficit to one at 37-36.

George Fox shot an even 50 percent in the period, while the Jeffs made up for a 7-for-14 performance at the line by shooting 48 percent overall and going 6-for-12 from behind the arc.

The Bruins came out gunning in the second, using big offensive rebounds and more full-court pressure to suddenly pull back ahead, 43-37. Amherst got right back in the game with four points apiece from Stedman and Kim Fiorentino ’12, while Bridget Crowley ’13 came off the bench for a big pull-up jumper. The Jeffs finally regained the lead on Atanga McCormick’s third three-pointer of the night, but the Bruins tied it back up at 50-all with 12:02 to play.

Amherst briefly held leads again at 55-54 and 57-56, but Munger scored eight of her team’s next 10 points to keep the momentum on the Bruins’ side. The game seemed to be slipping away when George Fox took a 64-59 lead on a Munger jump hook, but a steal and breakaway layup by Stedman was followed by a big three by Voigt from the left corner, tying the score at 64-64 with three and a half minutes to go.

That would be the Jeffs’ final push, as George Fox scored the game’s next six points and led by at least four the rest of the way. Stedman knocked down a three with 18.2 seconds remaining for her team’s final points, and the Bruins held on for the 76-69 final.

Stedman, Atanga McCormick and Kim Fiorentino '12 had three steals apiece, as the Jeffs held an 8-0 edge in fast-break points. Voigt added six rebounds and four assists while helping Amherst's bench outscore the Bruins' by a 19-7 margin. Munger helped George Fox hold a commanding 44-24 edge in points in the paint, making the Bruins the first team all season to score at least 70 points against Amherst's smothering defense.

“I’m proud of my team,” Gromacki said afterward. “I’m proud of my players and the way they fought back. When they were down, they responded. We just couldn’t make the one play to get over the hump.”

BOX SCORE

2012 NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Hope College (Holland, MI) * DeVos Fieldhouse

National Semifinals - Friday, Mar. 16
George Fox def. Amherst, 76-69
Illinois Wesleyan def. St. Thomas, 67-53

Final Round - Saturday, Mar. 17
4 p.m. --- Amherst (31-1) vs. St. Thomas (30-2) --- Webcast/Live Stats
7 p.m. --- George Fox (32-0) vs. Illinois Wesleyan (27-5)