Sitting at 5-3 in the NESCAC with two conference games to play, the men’s basketball team went north to Maine over the long weekend to conclude its regular season. On Friday, Tufts beat Colby 72-64 before dropping a nail-biter at Bowdoin on Saturday, 57-5. The Jumbos finished their season at 13-11 overall and with a 6-4 conference record, earning the fourth seed in the postseason NESCAC tournament.
Tufts’ loss to Bowdoin was every bit as close as the final score suggested, with 10 ties, eight lead changes and neither team gaining a lead larger than six. Both teams accrued 41 rebounds and nine assists.
The game was tied at 26-26 at the end of the first half and neither team could pull away for most of the second half.
With just under two minutes to play and the score even at 51-51, Bowdoin first-year forward Liam Farley’s running shot was goaltended, giving Bowdoin a two-point edge. Tufts was unable to close the gap over the next minute and a half and with 12 seconds remaining, Bowdoin senior co-captain guard Bryan Hurley nailed an off-balance jumper in the lane to give his team a 55-51 lead. Following a clutch three from Tufts sophomore point guard Tarik Smith, Hurley iced the game with a pair of free throws. Sophomore tri-captain forward Tom Palleschi and Smith led Tufts in the losing effort with 14 points apiece, while senior tri-captain guard Ben Ferris pulled down seven rebounds.
“We were all able to get some very good looks against Bowdoin but just couldn’t connect,” junior guard Ryan Spadaford said. “We shot the ball very poorly as a team that day.”
Spadaford did not struggle the previous day at Colby; he knocked down five of nine 3-point attempts on his way to a team-high 17 points. After shooting just 29.4 percent from the field in the first half, which resulted in an eight-point deficit, the Jumbos shot 57.7 percent and outscored the Mules by 16 points in the second half on their way to a 72-64 victory. Junior tri-captain guard Stephen Haladyna scored all 12 of his points in the second half, including two huge threes. Tarik Smith also scored 12 points and paced Tufts with four assists, while first-year Ben Engvall notched a team-high seven boards off the bench.
“Colby’s players were smaller but very quick and played mostly zone defense,” Palleschi said. “This allowed us to attack the soft spots, but [we] had to make quick decisions.”
Spadaford was quick to praise his teammates for his big performance.
“My teammates just put me in good positions to score and all I had to do was hit the shots,” Spadaford said. “It was awesome to hit two big threes and put our team on top in a must-win conference game.”
After Saturday’s loss to Bowdoin, Tufts closely monitored Sunday’s contest between Amherst and Middlebury — a loss for Amherst would even its conference record with Tufts and give Tufts the fourth seed because of the latter’s 80-53 win over Amherst on Jan. 16. The Panthers, despite going into the NESCAC finale with a 3-6 conference record, upset the Lord Jeffs 82-69. Amherst will have a chance to avenge its regular-season loss to Tufts this Saturday when it travels to Cousens Gymnasium for the first round of the NESCAC playoffs.
“This weekend is going to be our biggest game of the year,” Spadaford said. “Amherst will be coming in with an edge. It will be a battle but I think if we play tough defense on their shooters and play together on every play, we will have a great opportunity to win the game.”
Before its loss to Middlebury on Sunday, Amherst had rattled off six straight wins with an average margin of victory of 20 points. Amherst has averaged the fourth-most points per game in conference play with 75.1 points per game, while Tufts has allowed the fourth-fewest points per game in conference play, surrendering just 64.3 points per game. The Jumbos will also hopefully be buoyed by the return of their leading scorer, sophomore center Hunter Sabety, who has not played since Jan. 24.
“We know Amherst is a good team, but we know that if we play our game and slow the tempo, we are very tough to beat,” Palleschi said.