The St. Thomas Aquinas College women's basketball team jumped on top early and pulled away for a convincing 65-41 East Coast Conference victory over Daemen College at Aquinas Hall. With the victory, the Spartans - ranked #5 in the East in this week's NCAA poll - have now won seven straight to improve to 23-3 overall and 14-1 in ECC play. In having their 11-game winning streak halted, Daemen (ranked #10 in the East) slips to 15-9, 12-3, leaving STAC just one victory from clinching the regular-season conference championship and top seed for the upcoming tournament, with three games remaining.
Entering the evening, just one game separated the teams in the conference standings and a Daemen win would have given the Wildcats a series sweep and crucial tiebreaker over STAC. The Spartans battled through a defensive start, holding just a 5-2 lead after four minutes of play, before displaying the home court prowess that has led the team to a perfect 13-0 record at Aquinas Hall. Tenacious defense held the visitors to just four points over the first seven minutes, and Chelsea Murphy's three-pointer opened a 12-4 advantage.
An exchange of baskets saw the hosts retain a 16-8 gap through one quarter, and that advantage held at 22-14 with just over four minutes left in the low-scoring half. Julia Winnik and Zaria Thomas got the offense in gear with consecutive threes, Winnik added another, and Emily Preston landed a big blow with a 30-foot buzzer beater as the Spartans rode the 12-2 run to a stunning 34-16 halftime margin.
STAC imposed its will from there, never allowing the lead to draw below 17 points while taking a comfortable 48-26 advantage into the final quarter and cruising to the finish. Winnik led four Spartans in double-figures with a game-high 16, Preston posted 14, Kellyann Averill added 11 and Thomas 10 in the impressive win. Jordan Heinold was the only Wildcat to hit double-figures with a team-high 10 points.
The Spartans return to action with a quick turnaround, hosting Roberts Wesleyan College on Sunday, February 22, in a 1:00 pm start. They travel to face Queens on Wednesday, February 27, before wrapping up the regular season back at Aquinas Hall against Molloy on Saturday, March 2. STAC has already clinched a bye in the first round of the ECC Tournament, advancing to the semi-finals on Saturday, March 9, at the University of Bridgeport.