ATLANTA, Ga. – The Brandeis University women's basketball team defeated host Emory University, 75-72, today as the Judges outscored the Eagles, 8-2, over the final 3:25. In the process, Brandeis improved to 13-11 on the season and 7-6 in the University Athletic Association, clinching their first winning season since 2009-10 and locking up a position no worse than fourth in the UAA after being selected last among the eight teams in the league's preseason poll. Emory falls to 16-8, 5-8 UAA.
Brandeis put three players in double figures. The Judges' starting front-court of rookie Maria Jackson (Rochester, N.Y./Hilton) and senior Nicolina Vitale (Clinton Township, Mich./Chippewa Valley) led the way, combining for 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12-for-24 shooting. Jackson was the team's top scorer with 15 points on 6-of-10 from the field, while grabbing seven rebounds. Vitale pitched in with 14 points, hitting 6-of-14, while leading the Judges with eight caroms, four on the offensive glass.
The Judges also got key contributions off the bench from a pair of sophomore guards. Samantha Mancinelli (Durham, Conn./Coginchaug Regional) scored a career-high 13 points, hitting 5-of-8 from the field, with five rebounds. Niki Laskaris (Swampscott, Mass./Swampscott) added nine points, hitting three of the team's four 3-pointers. Brandeis outshot Emory, 47.5% (29-61) to 35.3% (30-85), for the game and 54.2% (13-24) to 31.8% (14-44) in the second half.
Emory was paced by Savannah Morgan, who led all players with 21 points, but Morgan needed 26 shots to get her points, hitting 9-of-26 overall and 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. Morgan also led the Eagles with nine rebounds (three offensive). EU's Selena Castillo also reached double-digit scoring but needed a plethora of shots to get there, scoring 12 points on 5-of-18 from the floor with a 3-pointer and a free throw. The Eagles owned large margins on the offensive glass (24-14) and in turnovers (17-8), but they were unable to take advantage owning just a 15-14 edge in second-chance points and trailing 14-13 in points off turnovers.
Brandeis got off to a frigid start, missing 10 of their first 11 shots and trailing 13-4 less than six-and-a-half minutes into the game after a Morgan jumper. Laskaris kick-started the Judge offense with her first trifecta on the next possession, and the Judges eventually went ahead, 25-24, on a Mancinelli lay-up with just over seven minutes remaining in the half. Mancinelli had a steal on the next Emory possession and turned it into an assist on Julia Scanlon's (Long Valley, N.J./West Morris) lay-up that made it a three-point lead. Brandeis was still ahead, 31-28, on a Kasey Dean (Southbury, Conn./Pomperaug) jumper at the 4:13 mark, but Emory embarked on a 12-4 run to take a five-point lead before Brandeis's Janelle Rodriguez (Peabody, Mass./Peabody Veterans) nailed a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left to make it a 40-38 lead for the Eagles at the break. Mancinelli and Vitale each had eight points in the first half, while Morgan had 16 before the break.
After Jackson and Vitale scored the first two buckets of the second half for the Judges, the stanza saw six ties and nine lead changes. The largest lead for either team was five points, following a Vitale jumper with 7:46 left that made it 65-60 in favor of the Judges. Emory answered with the next seven points, sparked by a Fran Sweeney 3-pointer and capped by a Castillo lay-up with 4:11 to go that made it 67-65, Emory.
Brandeis rookie Paris Hodges (Southampton, N.Y./Southampton) hit a pair of free throws after two offensive rebounds, squaring the game at 67-67 with 3:46 to go. The Eagles pushed the ball up the court and Castillo scored just 12 seconds later and drew a foul in the process. Her three-point play gave EU a 70-67 lead, but the home team would hit just one more bucket the rest of the way. Rodriguez got to the line and hit both to get Brandeis within one point just nine seconds after Castillo's hoop.
After Hodges corralled a defensive rebound on the Eagles' next possession, she drove the length of the floor and hit a lay-up with just under three minutes to go, giving Brandeis the lead, 71-70. Hodges also drew a foul, but was unable to convert the bonus. The Judges had another opportunity to increase their lead from the line, but missed twice, allowing Morgan to give Emory a brief 72-71 lead with two minutes to go. Brandeis answered at the other end, with Rodriguez feeding Jackson in the paint for what proved to be the game-winning lay-up with 1:43 remaining. The Judges were able to hold Emory to just one shot the rest of the way, with Hodges coming up big with a defensive rebound and a steal. Brandeis hit just 2-of-4 free throws down the stretch, but their terrific defense was able to preserve the win.
Brandeis will close out the regular season against rival NYU next Sunday afternoon at 12 noon. Emory travels to the University of Rochester next Saturday, also at noon.