March 5, 2014

Eighth-seeded women stun top-seeded Emmanuel, 64-55, in ECAC quarters

BOSTON, Mass. (info taken from an Emmanuel College press release) – The Brandeis University women's basketball team erased a nine-point deficit early in the second half, then rattled off 16 unanswered points later in the stanza as the eighth-seeded Judges stunned the top-seeded Emmanuel College Saints, 64-55, in the quarterfinals of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) New England Division III Tournament tonight in Emmanuel's Jean A. Yawkey Center.

With the win, the Judges improve to 14-12 on the season and advance to this weekend's semifinals. Emmanuel, which lost a second-straight 1-vs-8 tournament matchup, finishes its season at 19-8.

In a back and forth first half that saw five ties and eight lead changes, Emmanuel was able to take a 30-27 lead into halftime behind strong play from junior guard Britni Mikulanecz (Portland, Maine). Mikulanecz paced both the offensive and defensive effort with a team-high eight points and eight rebounds at the break. Unfortunately for the Saints, Mikulanecz went down with a knee injury with just seconds remaining in the half and would not return to the contest.

The Judges' largest lead in the half came after a three from senior guard Janelle Rodriguez (Peabody, Mass./Peabody Veterans) made it 9-6 with 15:46 remaining. Emmanuel's largest lead in the half was four, following a layup by junior forward Jennifer Bujnowski (Salem, N.H.) made it 28-24 with under a minute left in the action. Emmanuel held Brandeis to a 26.5% shooting percentage and forced 14 turnovers in the first half while holding a 28-25 rebounding edge. The Judges stayed close by hitting 4-of-5 from 3-point range and 5-of-8 from the line, while EC was 0-for-3 and 2-for-7. Eight different Brandeis players scored their nine baskets in the first.

After Brandeis senior Kasey Dean (Southbury, Conn./Pomperaug) hit the first bucket of the second half, Emmanuel scored the game's next eight points, taking their biggest lead of the game on  Jasmine Burwell jumper at the 16:36 mark that made it 38-29 in favor of the hosts. The Judges quickly erased that deficit, though, scoring eight in a row of their own in just over 90 seconds, keyed by 3-pointers from rookie Paris Hodges (Southampton, N.Y./Southampton) and sophomore Niki Laskaris (Swampscott, Mass./Swampscott).

After Laskaris connected from deep at the 14:52 mark to make it a one-point game, both teams went silent for nearly two minutes until Brandeis senior Angela Miller (Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek)  put in a lay-up on a helper from Dean to give Brandeis its first lead of the second half. A put-back layup on the next possession by Emmanuel senior forward Jasmine Burwell (Brentwood, N.Y.) bumped the Saints back ahead, 40-39, and after trading baskets, a jumper from junior forward Lena Negri (Arlington, Va.) increased the EC lead to 44-41 at the 10:33 mark.

At that point, Brandeis embarked on the decisive run. Rookie center Maria Jackson (Rochester, N.Y./Hilton) cut the deficit back to one, while sophomore guard Samantha Mancinelli (Durham, Conn./Coginchaug Regional) buried a 3-ball from the corner with 9:05 on the clock to give the Judges the lead back for good and spark the 16-0 string. Brandeis would hold EC scoreless for a span of 7:30 as they built their lead to 13 points at 59-46 on a Jackson jumper with 4:02 remaining.

The run eventually ended a minute later on a put back jumper by EC freshman guard Olivia Marks (Canterbury, Conn.) to make it 57-46 with 3:03 left on the clock. Classmate Sarah Schemerhorn (Los Angeles, Calif.) drained a three with 2:32 to play to get the score back to single-digits at 59-51. Emmanuel had two more offensive chances to cut into the Judges' lead but was unable to convert, and a layup by Vitale made it a 10 point game at 61-51 with 1:30 to play. The Saints were unable to pull off any late game heroics as Brandeis held on, shooting 53.6 percent from the field (15-28) in the second half, to advance to the ECAC New England Semifinals.

Vitale finished the game with her third double-double of the season and of her career, notching game-highs with 12 points and career-high 14 rebounds. She scored 10 of her 12 points and grabbed seven boards in the second half.  Dean just missed a double-double with eight points and a career-best nine assists. Hodges, Jackson and Mancinelli also all finished with eight points. The Judges hit a season-high seven 3-pointers and connected at a season-best 70 percent clip from beyond the arc (7-10). The win was Brandeis's seventh this season when trailing at halftime, including seven of their last eight wins.

Negri led the Saints with 12 points while Bujnowski ended the game with 10. Bramante led the Saints with eight rebounds and five assists. The Saints hit 36.6% from the field overall (26-71), but were just 1-of-15 from 3-point range and a 2-of-15 from the free-throw line, missing all eight of their foul shot attempts in the second half.

Brandeis advances to the ECAC tournament semifinals for the third time in history, joining the Judges' 2004 and 2005 title teams. Brandeis will face fourth-seeded Smith College in the semis at 6 p.m on Saturday at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. Smith knocked off Rivier, 75-67. Second-seeded Endicott will host the semis and finals, as the Gulls defeated No. 7 Wellesley, 58-51. The final semifinalist was the tournament's other upset, as No. 6 Framingham State defeated No. 3 Wheaton, 82-69.