For the second straight year, the Jumbos could not emerge unscathed from a turbulent opening weekend.
Returning to the Eastern Connecticut Tip-Off Tournament for the first time since winning it in 2008, Tufts on Saturday thoroughly dominated an overmatched Lasell side to advance to the tournament final.
But the team struggled to find its touch on Sunday, falling to the host Warriors 57-43 while shooting only 23 percent from the field.
The weekend was eerily reminiscent of last year’s opening tournament, in which the Jumbos traveled down to New Paltz State only to fall to the hosts in a double overtime final.
A slow start on Sunday played a large part in the disappointing defeat. After sophomore Samantha Tye hit a jumper to tie the game 2-2, Tufts missed its next four straight shots while Eastern Connecticut went on a 9-0 run, forcing coach Carla Berube to burn a timeout early to attempt to rally the team.
“Nothing could fall for us,” junior guard Tiffany Kornegay said. “I know that personally, I was rushing my shots. Their defense was pretty intense.”
The Jumbos found some rhythm out of the timeout, but the Warriors kept pace, going shot for shot with Tufts until senior guard Brittany Whiteley hit a big three to extend their lead to 12. The Jumbos did not get within 10 points of the Warriors for the rest of the half.
Little changed in the second frame. Tufts started out by missing its first six shots while Eastern Connecticut extended its lead to 19. Though some late pressure from the Jumbos finally cut the lead to nine with just under three minutes to play, the Warriors did enough to seal the victory.
The Jumbos’ biggest problem on Sunday was finishing possessions. The squad held the Warriors to just 57 points and totaled 21 offensive rebounds, including five each by senior tri-captain Colleen Hart and sophomore forward Bre Dufault. But the Jumbos only converted those boards into seven second-chance points, a number that needs to improve as the Jumbos enter the NESCAC season.
Tufts was also uncharacteristically poor from beyond the arch, only shooting 3 for 21 from long distance. Hart and sophomore Collier Clegg, both known for their outside shooting, were only 1-6 and 2-10, respectively.
“Eastern is a very experienced team, they play great team defense and move the ball well on offense,” Hart said. “They forced us to take some tough shots, especially as the shot clock ran down a few times. But overall, we did not do a good job executing our offense and knocking down the open looks that we did get.”
With 27 points on the weekend, Hart moved within 100 of the Tufts all-time scoring record.
For everything that went wrong on Sunday, just as much went right on Saturday. After exchanging baskets early, the Jumbos went on an 11-point run that included 7 points from Kornegay. They did not stop there, extending the lead to 54-17 before the half, largely on the strength of strong shooting by the experienced tandem of Hart and Kornegay.
“It was more of a running game for us,” Kornegay said. “It was just fast breaks and layups. It felt good winning by that much to get the team confident and see what we can do together in our first official game.”
The massive margin allowed Tufts to get everyone involved. Every member of the squad played at least 12 minutes in Saturday’s game. While Kornegay and Hart led the team in scoring, the Jumbos also got strong performances from some of their younger talent. Dufault had 10 points, while Clegg had 9 and freshman Liz Moynihan had 13. The final score was a lopsided 88-34.
“It was nice to see everyone contribute, especially the newcomers,” Hart said.”Liz did a great job offensively; she had the hot hand all game. Tiffany led us on defense, and she really got after it,getting into the passing lanes for steals andpushing the ball out in the break.”
The Jumbos shot 58 percent from the field and 50 percent from distance against Lasell, numbers more typical of such a strong shooting side.
Though Tufts did not walk away with the trophy, Kornegay and Hart earned individual recognition for their performances over the weekend, as both were named to the All-Tournament squad.
Kornegay shined against the Lazers, tallying 19 points, five rebounds and three steals, while Hart reached double digits in both games and also did a good job of crashing the boards.
The Jumbos will get some well-deserved rest after the busy tournament weekend. They are off until Sunday, when they will meet Brandeis in a key out-of-conference matchup. The Judges are perennially one of the top teams in New England and have already dismounted one NESCAC team this season, trouncing Conn. College 68-36.
Tufts will need to step up its game if it hopes to compete.
“Playing such a good team [this weekend], we now know what we need to work on,” Kornegay said. “We saw our flaws, so we can spend this next week working on those and getting better. We are going to get better, both offensively and defensively. I’m looking forward to Brandeis.”