Wheaton's bid for return trip to NCAA Tournament falls short against Babson

WORCESTER, MA- The fourth-seeded Wheaton College women's basketball team's quest to return to its second consecutive NCAA Tournament came up short against second seed Babson College, 51-43 in the championship game of the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Tournament on Sunday in Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) Harrington Auditorium.

Wheaton, which will await word for a possible Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Tournament bid, was seeking its sixth league tournament title since 1987.  Having their four-game winning streak halted, the Lyons fell to 17-11.  Winning its third conference tourney championship and first since 1999, Babson automatically gains entry into the NCAA Tournament at 20-8.

Senior Bri Smith (Westford, MA/Westford Academy), who became the 10th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point milestone, paced Wheaton with a game-high 20 points, including four three-pointers.  Junior Ida Kruse (Vershire, VT/Rivendell Academy) finished with seven points and eight rebounds, while classmate Jenny Champney (Bedford, MA/Bedford) had six points and six rebounds.  Junior Andrea Bailey (Needham, MA/Needham) dished out a game-best eight assists.

Freshman Nicole Wurdeman (Rowley, MA/Triton Regional) turned in 12 points and eight boards for the Beavers, while classmate Michelle Kenel (Rockaway Beach, NY/Bishop Kearney) added 11 points and eight rebounds.  Sophomore Renay Hamilton (Lynn, MA/Lynn English) and first-year Kathleen King (Framingham, MA/Framingham) chipped in with eight points each, with King pulling down nine rebounds.

Trailing by seven points at the half, Wheaton knotted the contest just 3:57 into the second stanza at 34-all, which was capped by back-to-back Smith threes just 49 seconds apart.  Smith later scored four straight points to give the Lyons their first lead of the second half, a 38-36 edge at 11:35. 

A Kruse lay-in with 7:57 to play gave the Blue and White a 42-39 lead, but that basket proved to be Wheaton's last, as a Kruse free throw at 6:28 provided the team its final point, as the Lyons led 43-41.  King's jumper at 3:36 provided the game's eighth tie, while Hamilton's basket with just over two minutes on the clock gave the Beavers the lead for good, as the Lyons missed their final 13 shots.

Turnovers plagued the Lyons in the opening half, as 14 Wheaton giveaways led to 17 of Babson's 30 points.  Smith scored seven of her team's initial 14 points, and her 1,000th point came on a lay-up from Champney with 8:15 to play before the break.  Smith's three at 5:48 made the 19-16 in favor of the Lyons, who opened the game shooting 8-of-15.  With Wheaton clinging to a 23-22 edge with 1:25 to go before the break, Babson closed the stanza on an 8-0 run in just 57 seconds, including a pair of treys from Kenel, for a 30-23 halftime lead.