The Jumbos moved to 7-2 on the season on Saturday after a convincing 78-63 win over the Wentworth Institute of Technology Leopards (2-5). A tough loss on Dec. 6, courtesy of a buzzer beater by the UMass Boston Beacons (6-3), consigned the team to their second consecutive loss. Following the win on Saturday, however, the Jumbos look in better shape for their match up Tuesday against the Framingham State Rams (2-7).
“On Tuesday, we got out to a slow start, we weren’t very focused and didn’t have energy from anybody, whereas on Saturday we knew it was a must-win game,” senior center Drew Madsen said. “We were very focused and had a lot of guys playing. Everybody came in ready to go.”
Against Wentworth, Tufts came out to a better start than it did during Tuesday’s game. In the opening five minutes, the two teams remained level, scoring six apiece. The ball traveled up and down the court several times, with neither team able to finish their shots. Although the Leopards took the lead briefly at 9-8, the Jumbos went on a 7-1 run after junior guard Ben Engvall made a 3-pointer, and junior guard Everett Dayton and sophomore guard Ethan Feldman added two points each.
After the Leopards tied the game up at 20-20 with eight minutes remaining in the first half, the Jumbos responded with eight consecutive points to retake the lead. Engvall registered another three-pointer, junior guard Stefan Duvivier and senior co-captain guard Tarik Smith each added a layup, and Dayton made a free throw to add to the lead. With five minutes remaining in the first half, the teams were both in the foul bonus, so consecutive fouls on the Jumbos allowed the Leopards several free throw opportunities. After junior guard Vincent Pace made a layup and a free throw, the Leopards answered with a three-pointer, meaning the Jumbos ended the half with a 35-32 lead.
Senior co-captain center Tom Palleschi led the team to a dominant start to the second half and was individually responsible for seven of 12 unanswered points. The other points came from Pace (with three) and Dayton (with two). Jumping out to a 47-34 lead gave the Jumbos the momentum they needed, and they maintained the advantage for the rest of the game.
As the second half progressed, the Leopards demonstrated a lack of discipline with their fouling. Wentworth offered up 10 free throw points in only two and a half minutes, of which Tufts made nine. With 7:33 remaining the Jumbos had racked up a 15-point lead, but the next four minutes saw a scoring drought that allowed the Leopards to briefly narrow the gap.
Despite taking several timeouts and attempting to regroup, the Leopards could not catch the Jumbos, and the game ended 78-63. Pace led Tufts with 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Dayton was close behind with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists. The Jumbos had 13 turnovers in the game, partly due to their fast paced offense, which sometimes means that the team has less control than they would like.
“One thing we have to do more is focus on our approach of getting the ball into the ball-handler’s hands,” junior guard KJ Garrett said. “So we look for our point guards in transition and make sure our ball-handlers can focus on running the offense. Once we get there, we will have fewer turnovers.”
Garrett added that while turnovers are inevitable, they could be reduced.
“I don’t think we average more turnovers than most teams we play, but we can definitely limit those,” he said.
Tuesday was a different story from Saturday. The Jumbos got off to a slow start, allowing the Beacons to jump out to an 8-3 lead. Tufts could not stop UMass Boston’s senior center/forward Sam Freeman, who finished the game as the leading scorer with 26 points. Seven early points from Engvall kept the Jumbos competitive, while Feldman and Smith added threes of their own to take the lead 10 minutes into the game.
The lead grew to 33-26 thanks to five points from Feldman and was extended even further to 39-28 with 3:42 remaining in the half. However, it was truly a game of momentum, and as fast as the Jumbos’ lead grew, it shrank just as quickly. The Beacons pressed the Jumbos hard and managed to decrease their deficit to 41-38 as the game went to halftime.
In the second half, there were numerous lead changes as both teams went on scoring runs. The Beacons made two two-pointers and two three-pointers to jump to a 48-43 lead. However, the Jumbos answered with three two-pointers to take the lead again.
The remaining 14 minutes of the game were neck and neck, with the teams going nearly one for one until the Jumbos couldn’t finish several offensive possessions and the Beacons took a 72-65 lead with 1:33 left. Smith gave the Jumbos the opportunity to stay in the game with two three-pointers to tie the game at 74-74 with 19 seconds left. However, the Beacons had the final offensive possession and made sure to wind down the clock. At the last moment, Freeman scored a buzzer beating jump shot with one second left to win the game 76-74.
The loss was an unpleasant surprise for the No. 5 Jumbos, having fallen to a second unranked team in as many games. While the team bounced back against Wentworth, the week revealed what the Jumbos needed to work on. Tufts was out-rebounded in both games and often missed second-chance points as a result. The slow start against UMass Boston demonstrated the necessity of having the right preparation, and the repercussions when they didn’t.
“We know [rebounds are] definitely an issue,” Madsen said. “We have to focus on making sure that we have five guys going after it instead of one guy while everyone else watches it from the perimeter. We’ve been trying to hammer down in practice, and make sure that everyone is going after the ball. Hopefully we get it together before the conference starts.”
Still, at this point in the season last year, the Jumbos had the same 7-2 record and went on to have one of their most successful seasons in history. The Jumbos have one last game in 2016, but in the new year, the pressure will be on to play more consistently, as they have six consecutive conference games between Jan. 6 and Jan. 20.