Senior Sarah Smith’s 18 points led the St. Thomas women’s basketball team to a dominating 80-47 victory over St. Benedict’s at home and clinching sole possession of the MIAC championship for St. Thomas.
The senior night game between two of the best teams in the MIAC started close, but quickly evolved into a Tommie rout after a 16-0 run in the first half.
“One thing that we came into the game with is the mentality that we have to be the aggressor,” coach Ruth Sinn said. “We can’t be passive. We have to take chances. We have to go after it, and we can’t hold back.”
As St. Thomas moved forward to a 26-13 lead with seven minutes remaining, St. Ben’s opted to play a 2-3 zone, but the Tommies continued scoring at will.
“We couldn’t let up,” senior Jazmin Townsend said. “They’re a team where if you let up they’re going to start hitting threes.”
St. Ben’s never got the chance to make a first-half comeback. St. Thomas ended the half with a 22-point lead as freshman Taylor Young added a fast break layup as time expired.
“We went into halftime screaming,” Townsend said. “You would have thought we won the game already.”
The Tommies opened the second half the way they closed the first: playing tough defense and scoring from all cylinders.
“We just kept telling ourselves, ‘We can’t get too comfortable,’” senior Rachel Booth said. “Even if we had this lead, they could still come back.”
With nine minutes remaining in the second half, St. Thomas held a 33-point lead, and the only thing slowing it down was the fouls.
“A little frustrated with the fouls but it didn’t even matter,” Booth said. “Everyone was amazing today.”
With the win, St. Thomas also clinched the top seed in the MIAC playoffs and finished 10-1 in home conference games.
“This is a moment that you want,” Sinn said. “It’s a little scary when things are on the line, but I kept telling the girls, ‘You want this opportunity to shine.’”
Booth finished with the game with 17 points, and Young provided 12 points off the bench for the Tommies. The St. Thomas bench outscored the St. Ben’s bench 38-25.
The Tommies secured a first-round bye with Saturday’s win and will play a semifinal game at 7:30 p.m.Thursday against either fourth-seed Gustavus, fifth-seed Bethel or sixth-seed Macalester.
“It’s just nice that we’ll actually get to rest our bodies,” Townsend said. “And have some fun celebrating too.”
Carly Samuelson can be reached at email@example.com.