A pair of wins in the Liberty League tournament this past weekend not only guaranteed the conference crown for the RPI women’s basketball team, but also secured a berth in the NCAA tournament for the Engineers. Rensselaer, which defeated the St. Lawrence University Saints by a score of 67-55 in the semifinals, conquered Skidmore College in the championship round by a mark of 70-67. The Engineers will now head to Amherst, Mass., to play Southern Maine University in the first round of the NCAA Division-III women’s basketball tournament this weekend. This is the second time in the school’s history that the team has advanced to the big stage, the other being the 2001 season.
Game one of the tournament pitted the three-seed Engineers against the No. 2 seed Saints for the semifinals of the four-team field. Graduate student Whitney Coleman collected a game-high 24 points in the 67-55 rout.
In addition to her 24-point contribution, Coleman also registered her 11th double-double of the year by adding 14 rebounds, as well as four assists and a steal. Leading the Saints was junior Abby Stanton, who finished the game with a team-high 16 points.
Heading into the second half, RPI held a slim three point lead over St. Lawrence, 30-27, while also limiting the Saints to a 37.9 shooting percentage and keeping SLU 0 for 4 on attempts from beyond the arc. Rensselaer built up its lead throughout the second half, keeping the Saints at bay and finishing with a final score of 67-55.
Rensselaer sophomore, Nicole Monroe, added 17 points off the bench. The Engineers finished with a 27-9 advantage in bench scoring—including 21-5 in the second half alone. In addition, senior Amanda Brophy added seven points and three rebounds, while graduate student Ellen High registered six points and five boards.
The win set up a final match against the Skidmore Thoroughbreds. Earlier in the season, the Engineers dropped both conference matches against Skidmore, and headed into the game determined not to get swept on the year from the local rival.
Skidmore jumped out to a 12-6 lead after a pair of free throws from senior Dana Leonard, but after several battles for the ball between the teams, Rensselaer closed that gap to a one-point deficit, 18-17, off a layup from Brophy at 7:50. However, the Thoroughbreds closed out the half with a 12-2 scoring run to finish up 30-19.
Despite holding a 14-point lead after a free-throw from senior guard Sharlyn Harper to open the second half, the Engineers bounced back with a 24-5 point run over a seven minute span to regain the lead. Brophy increased the Engineers’ lead to 12-points off a pair of free throws, but the Thoroughbreds quickly jumped back into the game to cut the deficit.
In the final three minutes of play, both teams registered a combined total of 37 points, with Skidmore outscoring the Engineers by a 23-14 mark. After a three-pointer and a layup in the final seconds of play from the Thoroughbreds, the game-tying basket was only a couple of points away, but came up short with two seconds left on the clock, giving RPI the win.
Coleman shattered two school records in the win. Her 479 points over the course of this season and 1,518 career points are new records in both categories. In addition to her 16 points in this game, Coleman had a game-high 15 rebounds, four assists, and three steals, and earned the tournament’s Most Valuable Player honors. Also named to the All-Tournament Team were junior Allison Connor, who finished the game with 15 points, and Monroe.
Rensselaer, who finished 17-10 on the year, will join Amherst College, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and Southern Maine in the first round of the NCAA tournament to be held at Amherst College, who finished as the top-ranked team in the nation.