Smith College beats New Paltz, advances to first Division III Sweet 16

  • The Smith College basketball team celebrates after beating SUNY New Paltz, 62-60, Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament in New Paltz, New York. The Pioneers advanced to their first Sweet 16 in program history. COURTESY SMITH COLLEGE

For the Gazette
Published: 3/8/2020 8:21:01 PM

NEW PALTZ, N.Y. — The Smith College basketball team defeated SUNY New Paltz, 62-60, after a tension-filled fourth quarter to move on to its first Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Tournament, Saturday at the Hawk Center.

The Pioneers trailed by 10 with 5 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the final frame. They rallied to tie with about one minute left, then freshman guard Amelia Clairmont’s driving layup with 1.8 seconds left give the Pioneers the victory.

New Paltz took two timeouts following Clairmont’s layup, but could not answer. Smith subsequently ran onto the court in a frenzied celebration while a stunned and silent home crowd watched.

“We looked at each other on the court and we talked a lot about (a win) and how much we want it together,” Clairmont said. “It sends you into a different mode, like, ‘We don’t want this to end.’”

The Pioneers staged the late rally behind Clairmont, whose 3-pointer with 5:07 cut the 10-point deficit to 57-50. Jessie Ruffner cut it to five before Maddie Gillis extended it to 60-52 with a 3.

Ruffner answered with a 3 with 2:34 remaining. Clairmont then added a 3 and Morgan Morrison a jumper to tie the game with 1:05 left.

“When things get rowdy, I go and calm people down and keep our team together,” Smith junior guard and captain Elle Jo Whalen. “A lot of times, that is bringing the team together during dead balls and reminding them of small things, or encouraging somebody like, ‘Hey, you got the next one.’ I think we do best when we are encouraging each other and celebrating each other.”

Smith took a 9-3 lead less than halfway through the first quarter. Despite New Paltz tying it at 9-9, Smith kept up its advantage with the help of two free throws each by Clairmont and Ruffner, and took a 17-12 lead at the conclusion of the first quarter.

Smith continued its momentum into the second quarter. Although the Hawks rallied to pull within two points with 8:30 left, sophomore guard Dashelle Gleissner made two jumpers, a free throw and had two assists down the stretch to held the Pioneers maintain their lead, 33-25 into the second half.

“I define my role as a distributor as much as I can,” Gleissner said. “I’m not as vocal as (Whalen), but I am there for steals that you wouldn’t expect.”

The third quarter saw the momentum swing in the Hawks’ favor. A Katelyn Pickunka layup gave the Pioneers a 40-31 lead, but the Hawks scored a pair of layups and a pair of 3-pointers to give it a 41-40 advantage and ignite their home crowd with 4:44 left.

“I think (my team) took the energy New Paltz fans had for their team and used it to fuel them,” Pioneers head coach Lynn Hersey said. “I would say confidently that this group loves playing in front of crowds.”

Smith played part of the third quarter without Whalen, who fell down after a defensive play and sustained a head injury with 7:33 remaining.

“I just took a charge and didn’t really catch myself as well as I had hoped,” Whalen said. “My head hit pretty hard, but it feels fine right now. We’ll see how the week comes and after all the adrenaline settles down.”

The third quarter ended tied at 47. A Clairmont 3 gave Smith a 47-45 edge, but Marion Dietz made two free throws just before the buzzer.

“I think we struggled a little bit to get the looks we wanted, but we tried to go back into the post,” Hersey said. “Once we started to go back to that, it created a little more balance for our guards.”

Though the fourth quarter began in the Hawks’ favor, the Pioneers pulled through to send themselves to the Sweet 16.

Smith (26-4) will play Messiah (25-4) on Friday in the Sweet 16 at Tufts in Medford. Williams (20-8) will play Tufts (28-1) in the other bracket semifinal.

NOTE — Physicality was a crucial component for both teams as the Hawks and Pioneers didn’t shy away from putting their bodies in front of players driving to the net. Whalen finished with four fouls, while Clairmont and Ruffner each had three. Paige Niemeyer and Maddie Van Pelt each had four for the Hawks. Philesha Teape had three.


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