Over the weekend, the Jumbos extended their domination of the NESCAC, tallying two wins over Wesleyan and Conn. College to remain the only undefeated team in the league and extending their win streak to nine. On Friday, the Jumbos overcame the Wesleyan Cardinals 77-73 in front of a huge crowd at Cousens Gym in what was a hard fought competition. On Saturday, the Jumbos gave a more dominant performance over the Conn. College Camels with a resounding 100-83 victory.
Tufts lost to Wesleyan by one point last season in overtime, so there was no question that this would be one of their big tests of the season. The scoring opened with senior tri-captain center Tom Palleschi making a free throw, which he followed with a jump shot seconds later. Although the Jumbos ultimately came away with the win, their shooting on Friday was not as strong as usual and prevented them from opening up a definitive lead on the Cardinals.
Senior tri-captain guard Tarik Smith cut through the defense several times to make two layups, but the Cardinals stayed neck and neck with the Jumbos until sophomore guard Ethan Feldman entered the game. Feldman buried two three-pointers within two minutes of each other, while junior guard KJ Garrett netted one of his own to create a significant lead. But the Cardinals answered with a scoring run of their own to pull within one, 22-21.
With just under four minutes remaining in the first half, Palleschi, arguably the most significant player on the Jumbo roster and the cornerstone of the defense, sustained a serious knee injury and is still sidelined pending MRI results. Despite this blow, the Jumbos remained disciplined. Both teams earned four more free-throw points before the half, and despite four points from Garrett and two apiece from Feldman and first-year guard Eric Savage, the score was tied 38-38 at halftime.
What let Tufts down in the first half was that they were shooting 33.3 percent versus Wesleyan’s 42.4 percent. Despite having significantly more offensive possessions, the Jumbos failed to take the lead.
“We didn’t shoot that well [against Wesleyan],” Smith said. “Wesleyan is notoriously one of the better defensive teams in the NESCAC, especially this year they’re holding teams pretty low. They get into the paint well and box out well. [Palleschi] went out early, so our biggest force that would have been in the middle was out.”
However, the second half was a different story, with Tufts shooting 41.4 percent and Wesleyan falling to 35.5 percent. Garrett kept the Jumbos afloat with his rebounding, having recorded six in the first half and added nine points.
First-year center Patrick Racy and Garrett shone in the second half, scoring nine and seven points respectively. Racy stepped up in the last 10 minutes of the game, scoring nine out of his total 10 points in the game in these final minutes. Ultimately, Wesleyan’s fouling lost them the game, with the score only 71-70 until they gave away six free throw points to Tufts. The game ended 77-73 as Wesleyan moved to 2-3 in the NESCAC and Tufts moved to 5-0.
Saturday’s game was set apart from Friday because of the Jumbos’ shooting. Against the Camels, the Jumbos shot an astounding 58.5 percent, compared to 36.8 percent the day before. This made all the difference for junior guard Vincent Pace who was quiet on Friday night. He tallied 20 points and five rebounds, with 13 of his points coming within the first 12 minutes. Junior guard Everett Dayton, senior tri-captain center Drew Madsen and junior guard Ben Engvall scored eight, five and six points respectively in what was a dominant first half.
The Camels challenged the Jumbos with their steals, forcing the Jumbos to keep careful possession of the ball while attacking. But the Jumbos put on a show for the audience, with a dunk from Madsen and, minutes later, an alley-oop from Garrett, both assisted by Dayton firing up the crowd. Dayton acted as the playmaker in the first half, assisting seven times, while Garrett anchored the defense, grabbing four defensive rebounds.
Dayton took control of the second half, scoring 17 points, shooting 8-10. Dayton opened up a 56-49 lead that the Jumbos steadily increased over the remainder of the game.
“I think [Dayton’s performance] spoke for itself,” Savage said. “He brought it, and [Pace] stepped up today. [Dayton] helped us maintain the lead when we were up. He made a lot of good plays that don’t necessarily go in the stat book like pass-to-assist that he always does [and] was able to score 25 and do those plays and that was awesome.”
After the Jumbos thwarted three consecutive Camels offensive possessions, the Camels called a timeout. However, the Camels could not make up any of the ground they had lost. Again, forcing fouls was an asset to the Jumbos, who scored seven free throw points in the last 10 minutes of the game. Seven points from Racy in a four minute span gave the Jumbos a 12 point lead with three minutes remaining. Three points from Dayton with 12 seconds remaining was a fitting end to the most successful game in his career, with career highs of 25 points and eight assists.
The Jumbos, now ranked No. 4 in the nation have a brief interlude from conference matchups with a game against Newbury College on Thursday, before facing Bates who are 3-3 in the NESCAC on Saturday.