ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Facing a nationally ranked opponent in the first round of the NCAA Division III women's basketball tournament didn't seem like a daunting challenge for The University of Scranton. After all, they had defeated three teams who were ranked in the top 25 during the regular season.
But No. 15 Williams College had a combination of size and skill the Lady Royals had yet to see this season, and the Ephs used it to their advantage while beating Scranton, 79-59, in a first-round game in the Louis A. Alexander Palestra at the University of Rochester on Friday evening.
The defeat brings an end to the Lady Royals' season. They finish with a 19-9 record after advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the 26th time in school history and the first time since 2010. They had received an at-large bid to the tournament after reaching the Landmark Conference championship game.
Scranton jumped out to a 10-point lead at 21-11 midway through the first half, but Williams used strong defense and hot shooting to go on a 23-7 run to end the half and take a 34-28 lead into halftime.
"Obviously that run at the end of the first half killed us," Lady Royals head coach Mike Strong said. "We were doing well, and then went into a spell, which we've done sometimes this year. (Williams) executed very well and didn't panic even when we got that 10-point lead."
The Ephs continued their hot shooting in the second half as sophomore guard Ellen Cook (Eugene, Ore./South Eugene) hit three 3-pointers in a 1:51 to turn a five-point Lady Royals deficit into a 13-point hole with 14:28 to play. Williams kept the pressure on, stretching the lead to 59-41 three minutes later when senior forward Claire Baecher (Brunswick, Maine/Brunswick) capped an 18-5 run with a pair of free throws.
Scranton wouldn't get closer than 12 the rest of the way.
Freshman guard Jaclyn Gantz (Havertown, Pa./Haverford) finished with eight points for Scranton. Senior forward Erin Boggan (Danbury, Conn./Danbury) added six points, five rebounds and two assists, and sophomore guard Lindsay Fluehr (Bensalem, Pa./Nazareth Academy) had six points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Scranton shot 24-for-63 (38.1 percent) for the game, including 4-for-12 (33.3 percent) from 3-point range.
It was the final game of their careers for Scranton's five seniors - guards Katherine Torto (Binghamton, N.Y./Seton Catholic Central) and Christina Hiltunen (Brooklyn, N.Y./Bishop Kearney), and forwards Tayler Pallotta (Dunmore, Pa./Dunmore), Shernai Bentley (Warwick, N.Y./Warwick Valley) and Boggan.
"We had a goal to get to the conference championship, which we did. And then we thought we would get an opportunity to play another game," Torto said after the game. "It was an exciting year."
"I'm very proud of my seniors," Strong added. "We re-established Scranton back as an NCAA Tournament team."
The foursome of Torto, Hiltunen, Pallotta and Bentley finished their careers with 76 victories, including a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances. (Boggan transferred to Scranton after spending two years at Division I Gardner-Webb.)
Williams, which advances to a second-round game on Saturday in Rochester, improved to 23-5. Baecher led the Ephs with 23 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks, two steals and two assists. Cook added 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. They shot 45.9 percent (28-for-61), including 9-for-23 from 3-point range, and won the rebounding battle, 40-34.