Smith College downs DeSales in first round of NCAA Tournament

For the Gazette
Published: 3/6/2020 10:37:37 PM
Modified: 3/6/2020 10:37:24 PM

NEW PALTZ, New York — Amelia Clairmont finished with 24 points as the Smith College basketball team pulled away from DeSales in the third quarter to win its NCAA Division III Tournament opener, 81-72, Friday at the Hawk Center.

“I would say we definitely do a lot of celebrating,” said Elle Jo Whalen, who had eight points, nine rebounds and four assists for the Pioneers. “I think we have learned as a young team to celebrate each other and the little things. We are definitely turning our heads toward tomorrow.”

Smith (25-4) will take on SUNY New Paltz (25-3) on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the second round. New Paltz beat Husson, 69-50.

Smith College led 41-36 at halftime. Katelyn Pickunka scored two layups to put the Pioneers up 45-36 less than two minutes into the quarter.

Smith extended the lead to 54-43 on a layup from Whalen with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left. It was Smith’s first lead of double digits. DeSales cut it to nine, but Clairmont hit a 3-pointer for a 12-pint advantage with 1:57 left.

A late jumper with 20 seconds remaining from Clairmont gave the Pioneers their biggest lead at 63-50, but DeSales cut the deficit to 11 with a basket with two seconds left.

DeSales cut the lead down to eight early in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t take long for the Pioneers to build their advantage back.

Two free throws by Pickunka made it 72-57, then a jumper by Dashelle Gleissner made it 74-57 with 5:21 left.

Smith College overcame 22 turnovers in the victory. The Pioneers shot 65.2 percent from the floor and 47.1 percent from 3-point range.

“One of the ways DeSales struggled to defend us was with our in-and-out game,” Pickunka said. “When we got the ball into the post, we did a very good job at owning it. They had to collapse and we could kick out (the ball) to our guards, who did an amazing job scoring and driving. It’s all about balance with the team and having that in and out game is so important.”

Pickunka had 18 points and seven rebounds, while Gleissner had 16 points, six assists and four rebounds.

Despite Whalen scoring a layup to start the game, DeSales got rolling early with a pair of jumpers and a layup to take a 6-2 advantage.

Multiple times, the Pioneers pulled within a basket of the Bulldogs, but DeSales maintained its slim lead throughout most of the first quarter.

“I think we knew the pressure was coming, but we had to feel it a little bit and problem solve it,” Pioneers head coach Lynn Hersey said. “They would make a run on us and we would answer with a big three, there was always a big play to answer their runs.”

The Pioneers took a 20-18 lead with a 3-pointer from Clairmont. Their fortunes improved further, with a 3-pointer by Gleissner and a jumper by Jessie Ruffner to secure a 25-22 lead by the end of the first quarter.

After a slow start to the second quarter, DeSales sophomore guard Samantha Shinkus landed a jumper at 8:39 to open the scoring. The Bulldogs tied the Pioneers at 31-31 with 5:47 left. Yet, Smith built a 39-31 lead on two Morgan Morrison free throws with 2:53 left. DeSales came back to trail 41-36 at halftime.


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