St. Francis College didn’t let the scoreboard spoil the moment.
The Terriers fell 89–33 to national power and defending champion UConn in the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament game in front of a crowd of 3,666 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., on March 21. But whatever the final score, it was a contest to remember.
Sarah Benedetti, the Northeast Conference tournament’s most valuable player, scored St. Francis’s first NCAA tournament basket with a top-of-the-key three-pointer less than 2:00 into the game. She led the way with 13 points.
“Coming in, I knew Gampel was a great atmosphere to play in, and this NCAA tournament game was exactly what I expected,” Benedetti said. “I knew UConn’s fans would be lively and it was nice to have the support of my family and friends from back home in Canton who came to the game. Regardless of the outcome, I had such a great time and it was such an enjoyable experience that I will remember forever.”
St. Francis was within 16–11 after a second Benedetti trey early in the first half. UConn then went on an 18–0 run to grab full control of the game. Morgan Tuck paced the Huskies with 26 points and Breanna Stewart added 17 points and 10 boards. Senior Eilidh Simpson and Jamyee Veney chipped in five points apiece for the Terriers.
“This was an incredible experience for our program,” said third-year St. Francis coach John Thurston. “This team is the first time that St. Francis has sent a team to the NCAA Tournament on either the men’s or women’s side. [UConn] coach [Geno] Auriemma is a gentleman. He said nice things about our team and that means a lot to these girls. I told the girls if we played anyone else, we would have beat them, but it would take the defending national champions to knock us out.”
St. Francis ends the year 15–19 and with the first conference championship in school history. The Terriers started league play 2–6 and finished 10–3 on its way to the crown. The season also marked the completion of a turnaround for the team’s five seniors from a four-win freshmen campaign.
“Going against UConn, you know to expect to face great athletes,” said senior guard Katie Fox. “I was proud of how we fought tonight and how we played our hearts out for our final time on the court together.”
Terriers men fall in NIT opener: Brent Jones scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half for No. 8-seeded St. Francis in an 84–74 loss to host and No. 1-seed Richmond in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament on March 18.
Junior Chris Hopper posted his first career double-double with 16 points and 11 boards. Jalen Cannon had eight points and 12 rebounds and Tyreek Jewell chipped in 14 points.
The Terriers used a 21–11 second-half run to pull within 74–72 with 2:50 left in the game. Kendall Anthony made consecutive hoops to put Richmond back up six and seal the win.
“When you cut it to two, you want a chance to win, to get over the top, but I think that’s when that shot went in,” said St. Francis coach Glenn Braica. “It changed things.”
Terry Allen paced the Spiders with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
The game is the first postseason game in a major tournament since 1963 for St. Francis College. The Terriers tied a program record with 21 wins.