Women’s basketball: Hot start propels Amherst past New Jersey City University, 70-55

Amherst College’s Kori Barach (25) drives to the basket during the Mammoths’ 70-55 win over New Jersey City University on Monday night at LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst.

Amherst College’s Kori Barach (25) drives to the basket during the Mammoths’ 70-55 win over New Jersey City University on Monday night at LeFrak Gymnasium in Amherst. KRIS DUFOUR/AMHERST ATHLETICS

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff writer 

Published: 11-27-2023 9:17 PM

AMHERST – The Amherst College women's basketball team stayed perfect on Monday night, riding a strong three-point performance and their usual airtight defense to its fifth consecutive win to open the 2023-24 season. 

The Mammoths rocketed out to a 15-2 start en route to a 70-55 victory over New Jersey City University at LeFrak Gymnasium to improve to 5-0 on the season.  

Amherst was money behind the three-point line, sinking eight triples on 20 attempts for a 40 percent success rate. Annie McCarthy drained four triples on seven attempts and finished with 14 points and 10 boards for a double-double. 

“We're happy with the way we started. You know, it's a long season, but we're definitely heading in the right direction,” Amherst head coach G.P. Gromacki said. “I think people are buying into what we're talking about, and they're working hard and we're having a good time.” 

NJCU’s Damaris Rodriguez led the visitors in scoring with 24 points, while four different Mammoths players finished in double digits – McCarthy, Kori Barach (19 points), Reeya Patel (16 points) and Laura Mendell (11). Mendell also dished out five assists and Barach led the team with six steals. That depth is another Amherst trademark, making the Mammoths difficult to defend. 

“I think players stepped it up exactly what we needed to and it came from everybody on the court, not just one person,” Barach said. “It’s so fun... everyone has to be guarded from the three line, so teams don't know how to play good D against us.” 

The Gothic Knights struggled to slow Amherst, and the game got sloppy in the second half with fouls from both sides; NJCU finished the game with 25 team fouls while Amherst had 17. Both teams had a player foul out near the end of the contest – Amherst’s Mendell and NJCU’s Tahirah Kelley both racked up five fouls. 

The Mammoths tore out to an early lead, going on a 14-2 run capped by a Laura Mendell layup that forced a NJCU timeout with 4:44 left in the first quarter. The Gothic Knights managed to knock down five points at the end of the quarter, but the home team held on to an 18-7 lead after 10 minutes. 

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Both teams struggled scoring in the first five minutes of the second quarter; Amherst’s three points came from a trio of free throws and NJCU could only scrounge up a jumper from Damaris Rodriguez and a triple from Elyssa Russo. McCarthy drained a 3 with 5:30 left that sparked a 7-0 run for the Mammoths over the next minute. The two teams traded blows over the last four minutes, and Amherst went into halftime with a comfortable 35-21 lead. 

That hot start ended up being a crucial part of Amherst’s win. 

“This is a good team. They're really athletic and they have obviously a dynamic scorer (in Rodriguez),” Gromacki said. “But it was important to get some confidence and put them on the ropes a little bit because we knew they would come back.” 

The Gothic Knights bounced back from shooting just 18.8 percent from the floor in the first quarter. The visitors came out with high intensity after halftime, forcing turnovers and steals that had Amherst on its heels. Both teams traded blows in the third quarter, but it was NJCU that outscored the Mammoths in the third quarter 21-18, at one point pulling within eight points of the home team. 

Despite the comeback attempt, the Gothic Knights couldn’t score enough to make it any closer than that, and foul trouble caught up to them again. Amherst ended up in the bonus in both the third and fourth quarters, and knocked down eight and four free throws, respectively, to help pad their lead. Over those two quarters, the Gothic Knights missed 12 free throw shots that could have made it a much tighter game 

The one damper on the team’s win was the absence of Sylvia Liddle, a starter who went down in the team’s last game against Albertus Magnus. It doesn’t appear to be a long-term injury; Gromacki was hopeful that she would return for the team’s next game at Wesleyan University on Saturday at 2 p.m. 

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.