1/21/17 – Medford, MA –Juniors Everett Dayton and KJ Garrett defend against Conn. College on Jan. 21. (Aneglie Xiong / The Tufts Daily)

Jumbos split weekend road trip, cling to first place in NESCAC

The Jumbos were on the road against the Amherst Purple and White and the Trinity Bantams over the weekend. Coming off the back of road losses last week, Tufts fought hard against Trinity on Friday night, eventually coming away with a narrow 78-75 win in overtime. On Saturday, the No. 9 Jumbos fell to the No. 11 Purple and White 84-71 in their biggest game of the season so far. Although Tufts hangs on to the number one spot in the NESCAC at 7-2, Amherst and Middlebury trail 6-2 with the opportunity to tie Tufts in first place with games in the coming week.

Amherst is arguably Tufts’ biggest rival both in and out of the NESCAC, with the teams having met three times last year. Although the Jumbos won the regular season game last year, the Purple and White were responsible for both of the Jumbos’ tournament exits. Amherst eliminated Tufts from the NESCAC Championship in the semifinal round and from the NCAA Tournament in the Elite Eight round.

“It wasn’t much different than any other game. We always want to have a chip on our shoulder, go out there and win,” first-year center Patrick Racy said. “Given that it was Amherst and we went 1-2 against them last season, there was definitely some extra motivation to play hard.”

The Jumbos took an early lead in the game due to the Purple and White fielding a different starting lineup than usual as they celebrated Senior Day. Racy took the first four points in the game, playing against his older brother, Amherst senior captain guard Jeff Racy. Tufts’ leading scorer junior guard Vincent Pace added three points, and two more from Racy brought the Jumbos to a 9-3 lead, which was extended by junior guard Everett Dayton and senior center Drew Madsen to 13-5.

The Purple and White took a 30-second timeout and brought new players on to the court who had an instant impact. Senior forward Eric Conklin, who scored in double figures in Amherst’s two victories over Tufts last season, came off the bench on Saturday to immediately earn points for his side.

Ten minutes into the first half, the Purple and White tied the game for the first time at 27-27, and from there, they established and grew a lead and would not trail for the rest of the game. Ultimately, it was the Jumbos’ shooting that let them down. The Jumbos have seen great success this season while their shooting was on the mark. However, the team lacks consistency in that area, and it suffered its first conference loss last week to Bates while shooting 36.1 percent from the field  and only 18.5 percent from behind the three-point line. On Saturday, the Jumbos shot 32.4 percent compared to the Purple and White’s 44.6 percent, and that is arguably what lost them the game. Leading up to halftime, the Jumbos failed to convert offensive possessions into scoring, but the Purple and White were successful almost every time and built their lead from there.

With just under seven minutes left in the half, both teams switched out everyone on the court, and two consecutive turnovers from Tufts allowed Amherst to score six unanswered points to establish a 30-36 lead. The gap briefly narrowed back to 34-36, but five more points before the half gave Amherst a 34-41 lead with 20 minutes remaining.

The Purple and White opened up the scoring in the second half as the Jumbos struggled to take advantage of possessions on offense. One thing that worked to the Jumbos’ advantage was the high volume of fouls that the Purple and White committed, with the Jumbos making 14 of 21 free throws in the second half.

After losing their rhythm in the first half, the Jumbos never really regained it. Despite scoring seven unanswered points at the end of the game, they were unable to reduce the deficit enough to challenge Amherst, which came away with the victory. One glaring difference in the performances of the two teams was that the Jumbos’ usually-strong bench failed to perform, contributing only 20 points when in the past they have easily doubled that number. Amherst’s bench, on the other hand, went above and beyond to score 63 points.

Junior guard KJ Garrett had a big impact on the game, grabbing 12 rebounds and ensuring that Tufts remained on par with their opponent’s rebounding. Although once a weakness for Tufts, rebounding has improved drastically due to Garrett’s individual impact, as he has been a solid performer in his first year wearing brown and blue.

“Obviously it was disappointing that we lost, but the good thing was that we made a lot of correctable mistakes so we can keep working on all of that stuff in practice,” Pace said.

Tufts’ shooting against Trinity on Friday was not significantly different from Saturday, with the exception of shots from behind the 3-point line. Tufts managed to go 53.8 percent from behind the line, compared to only 25 percent on Saturday. Although the Jumbos trailed 0-6 at the start of the game, they quickly brought it back and established a 16-10 lead in the first 10 minutes. Pace, who shot 2-14 on Saturday, went 4-7 in field goals and tallied 16 points against Trinity. Equally dominant in the first half were senior tri-captain Tarik Smith, with 15 points overall, and first-year guard Eric Savage, who had 12 points in the first half alone. Savage added six points in the second half to lead all scorers. Garrett made big contributions to the team coming off the bench to record 17 points and seven rebounds.

The Jumbos went into the second half with a six-point lead, but that dwindled in large part thanks to their shooting success decreasing from 46.4 percent in the first half to only 29.2 percent in the second. The Bantams outscored the Jumbos 37-31 in the second half, allowing them to make up the deficit and force the game into overtime. It was in the final 15 seconds of overtime that the Bantams gave away three free-throw points to the Jumbos, handing them the win. 

“This weekend was hard because [Amherst and Trinity] play the exact opposite from each other,” coach Bob Sheldon said. “Trinity plays defense, they hold and they want to stop you from scoring. But Amherst is all offense, they don’t care if you score. We were ready for Friday, but Saturday was more up to the players and their energy. With a little more time and preparation, us playing Amherst would be a different game.”

The Jumbos are at home tonight against Pine Manor, before Friday’s conference matchup of the season against Williams, which is 4-4 in the NESCAC.

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