Tufts 1-1 at New England Big Four Challenge

Then-sophomore Tufts guard Vincent Pace charges into the three-point line in the NCAA Division III men's basketball quarterfinal against Williams on Feb. 20. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

Though No. 3 Tufts saw off a challenge from the Brandeis University Judges 74-72 on Friday night, the Jumbos lost their first game of the season in the final of the New England Big Four Challenge held in Waltham, Mass. on Saturday. Tufts was unable to stop the Babson Beavers’ offense, losing 91-78. With the loss, the Jumbos moved to a 6-1 record.

Babson (9-0) was able to avenge last season’s 83-80 overtime loss to Tufts, defeating them in this season’s New England Big Four Challenge. The 6-0 Jumbos entered the contest having matched the best ever start in program history. 

The 91 points the Jumbos allowed were the most they had given up in regulation since last December, in a win over Whitman at the Thrivent Financial Tournament at Thousand Oaks, Ca. It was also the most points the Jumbos have allowed in a regulation time defeat since losing to Amherst 92-66 in the NESCAC Quarterfinal on Feb. 21, 2015.

The main problem for the Jumbos was stopping the Beavers downtown, as they made nine of 20 three-point shots; the Jumbos made just six of 22 attempts. Babson junior forward Nick Comenale opened the scoring for the Beavers, with a three-pointer just 18 seconds into the contest. A couple more three pointers, including another from Comenale and one from senior guard/forward Joey Flannery, put Babson up by 11 points less than six minutes into the game. Flannery added six more three pointers on the day, finishing with nine rebounds, two assists and a game-high 42 points.

“The easy answer [to why we lost] is that we didn’t play up to [the] level that we’re capable of and that’s not going to win games against good teams, which [Babson is],” junior guard Vincent Pace told the Daily in an email. “Our defense collectively as a unit just needs to keep improving across the board.”

The Jumbos found some momentum late in the half, as Pace made a jumpshot with 2:51 to play and senior co-captain center Tom Palleschi scored two free throws to bring the lead down to 40-35 with a little more than two minutes left in the first half. Palleschi finished the game as the Jumbos’ leading scorer of the night, netting 16 points, nine rebounds and 2 assists. Though Tufts started the second half with a layup from senior co-captain Tarik Smith, with sophomore guard Ethan Feldman following up with a three pointer, the team was unable to consistently stop the Babson offense, as Babson led from start to finish.

Tufts held off a late Brandeis surge on Friday to win 74-72. The Jumbos started out slowly and fell behind 7-0 in the first four minutes. However, once the Jumbos gained momentum, they did not look back. First-year guard Eric Savage’s two free throws with 8:55 to play in the first half put the Jumbos ahead, as they kept the lead for the rest of the game. Tufts then went on a 21-8 scoring drive to go into the break leading 38-24.

That lead stretched to 17, the largest of the game, at the start of the second half, as Palleschi made a layup and the and-one free throw. The Judges, however, soon found their rhythm. A strong performance by the Judges midway through the second half saw them go on a 15-3 scoring run that brought the contest within one at with 3:28 to play. Junior guard Ben Engvall dialed in from downtown at 3:07 to bring the lead back up to four. However, Judges junior guard/forward Latye Workman’s jump shot brought it back to 70-69 in favor of the Jumbos to set up a nervy finish. Smith converted his final four free throws to clinch the win.

The Tufts bench was crucial in pushing the team to victory, scoring 46 points. Pace led the team with 21 points and four rebounds, while Savage finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 1 assist. Pace received NESCAC Player of the Week recognition for his performance. Overall, the team was satisfied with its performance at the Big Four Challenge.

“The Big Four is a tournament we look forward to,” Savage said. “I think we came out playing well in the first half [against Brandeis] … but then we came out of the locker room in the second half, things kind of were not going the way we wanted them to go, we kind of let them back in it at one point … but we still pulled out the win which is the most important [thing].”

Tufts hosts UMass. Boston tonight at 7 p.m. as the team looks to recover from its defeat to Brandeis. This is the team’s final home game before the end of the semester, as the team will be on the road at Wentworth on Saturday and Framingham St. on Dec. 13th in its final two matches of December. 

Savage talked about how the team was excited to move on from its agonizing defeat against Babson.

“You just gotta move forward,” Savage said. “It’s a long season and if you get hung up over one loss, then it turns into a losing streak. You just gotta evaluate the game, put it behind you but learn from it and just move on, make sure you beat the next opponent and take care of business against UMass.”