WORCESTER – Senior center Forbasaw Nkamebo (Amherst/Amherst, Mass) scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead Westfield State to a 75-67 win over Worcester State in a MASCAC women’s basketball game at the Harrington Auditorium at Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Saturday afternoon.
Westfield (18-7, 11-1 MASCAC) clinches its second straight outright Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference Title. The Owls shared the regular season crown in 2014.
Nkambeo broke the Owls career record for rebounds with a defensive rebound late in the first quarter to give her 870 in her career, one more than Ellen (Carey) Leahy ’92. Nkamebo has 878 career rebounds after today’s game.
“Forbes is so strong and so athletic,” said Owls head coach Andrea Bertini. “She has bought into the way we play – as a senior and a two and a half year starter – and you’re seeing her offensive rebounding numbers have gone through the roof. It’s been awesome to watch and I’m so happy that she has had the senior year she has had.”
Westfield trailed 23-13 after the first quarter. The Lancers jumped out to a 9-2 start to the period after they honored senior guard Natasha Gonzalez prior to the game, then closed the period with a 10-run after Westfield had tied the game at 13-13. Worcester connected on 60 percent of its shots (9-15) from the floor, while Westfield committed seven turnovers in the opening 10 minutes. Westfield also shot just 2-8 from the foul line in the period.
Westfield trailed 41-34 at the half. The Lancers shot a blistering 63 percent (17-27) from the floor in the half.
“It was a tough first half,” said Bertini. “We were a little slow out of the gates and gave way too many layups and gave them all the momentum. I think Worcester is a good team with good young players, I think this is a good game for us going into the tournament – it was a close game and we had to execute, and come from behind and show some mental toughness.”
Westfield held Worcester to just two points over the first five minutes of the second half. The Owls opened the period with a 15-2 run, getting the press going and finally getting over the top on back-to-back threes from Jill Valley (Mahar/Orange, Mass.) and Susan Bell (Northampton/Northampton, Mass.) wrapped around a steal on the press gave Westfield a 49-43 lead with 3:01 left 3rd quarter.
Westfield led 58-51 entering the fourth quarter, but Worcester responded with an 10-3 spurt to open the fourth, tying the game at 61-all on a Herring layup with 6:20 left
Worcester took a 65-63 lead on a Katelyn Berkel (St bernards/Waterford, Conn.) layup with 5:28 to play.
Westfield got the lead back 66-65 on a Nkamebo offensive rebound and putback with 3:42 to play.
Berkel missed a potential go ahead layup a few series later, and the Owls’ Valley drove the ball and scored and coverted the plus-one free throw to give Westfield a 71-67 lead with 2:14 left.
Rebecca Sapouckey (Granby HS/Chicopee, Mass.) followed up an Owls’ miss for a 73-67 lead with 1:21 to play and Westfield held on for the win.
Valley added 17 points for Westfield as the only other Owl in double figure scoring. Kirsy Segarra (Holyoke/Holyoke, Mass.) added eight points and Allison Hester (Sutton/Sutton, Mass.) seven.
Worcester (7-18, 4-8 MASCAC) was led by 19 points and nine rebounds from Herring and 14 points from Berkel.
Westfield has won or shared the MASCAC regular-season crown in five of the last eight seasons, all under head coach Andrea Bertini ’96. The Owls have nine titles in the 40-year history of MASCAC women’s basketball, all of which have come in the past 26 seasons.
Westfield is 23-1 in the last two seasons in conference play.
Westfield will be the number one seed in the upcoming MASCAC tournament. The Owls will host a semifinal game on Thursday, February 25 at 7:00 p.m. If the Owls win their semifinal matchup, the MASCAC Championship game will be played at Westfield State’s Woodward Center on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
“It’s nice to have a home game,” said Bertini. “But whoever we play – they have seen us play twice and know what we do. We’re not going to change anything, and we’ve got to do our stuff well. We have to play hard and play together.”
“If you told me told at the beginning of the year that Alyssa Darling only played 12 games and missed the majority of the league schedule and we were without arguably the best point guard in the league who had a ton of game experience as a 2-year starter, I’d never imagine we’d be at this point,” said Bertini. “And that’s a credit to our players. There aren’t many teams you can take that good of a player out of the lineup and still have success,” said Bertini.
“I give credit to my players who have stepped up, we’ve started 12 different lineups this year, Bertini added. “Susie (Bell) hit a monster three today, she hit monster three’s against Bridgewater last week, and that’s what we need, to keep playing well if we’re going to win the league tournament.”
The Owls have averaged 90.4 points per game this season, which has the team ranked third in the nation in NCAA Division III (among 435 schools). The Owls are on a pace to shatter their school record for points per game, which was set by the 1977-78 team with a 75.3 ppg pace. Westfield has scored 100 or more points eight times in their 24 games this season.
“I’m never going back to that slow-down crawl pace on offense,” said Bertini. “Unless maybe we get a 6-4 center,” she added with a smile. “We have athletic kids. We have some depth, our big kids are athletic, our guards are quick, and you play to your strengths and I think this is the best style for us and our players.”
“The players are happy about it . they are happy more kids play, no time to hang your head if you miss a shot, you’re running up and down and even though they are in and out of the lineup they feel like they play the whole game.”
Westfield leads the nation in four statistical categories: offensive rebounds per game (23.0), steals per game (20.8), turnover margin (13.83 per game), and turnovers forced per game (34.13).