The Tufts Jumbos (18-5) comfortably outpaced the Pine Manor Gators (15-8) 106-87 on Tuesday. Last year’s matchup in Chestnut Hill, Mass. was a tenser affair, as Tufts needed 26 points and 17 rebounds from senior tri-captain center Tom Palleschi to secure a 105-98 overtime victory. This year, however, the Jumbos never led by fewer than 10 points after the 11:01 mark in the first half.
Tufts’ success came despite facing an unfamiliar defensive scheme, as Pine Manor aggressively employed the full-court press. According to junior guard KJ Garrett, the Gators’ unorthodox tactics presented the Jumbos with a unique challenge.
“A lot of NESCAC schools don’t really full-court press like that,” he said. “[Pine Manor has either] a zone press that they’re going through or a man press. They change it up, so it’s pretty interesting [because] we don’t go against that often.”
Garrett added that combatting the unconventional tactic required Tufts to practice breaking the press in the days leading up to the game.
“In practice, we have a few drills where we’ll go five, six or even seven guys in kind of a man and zone defensive press,” he said. “We have our own press break. Four guys [are] lined up in front of half court: two at the three point line in a vertical position and then two guys at the wings. We have one go break out, usually me or a five … and then one guy flashes to the middle and we kind of break it that way.”
Junior guard Ben Engvall explained the press coverage forces the Jumbos to play more carefully across the entirety of the court.
“We threw a couple extra guys out there on the court when we were doing our press break practice just to kind of simulate how hectic [it would be] and how they would try to speed us up,” he said. “We try not to turn the ball over, just be pretty sound with our passes, and just make sure we weren’t rushing and make quick decisions.”
Tufts controlled the encounter from the outset, and their 12-2 run to start the game forced Pine Manor coach Rich Fazzi to expend a timeout with 15:06 remaining in the first half. Briefly rejuvenated, the Gators notched five straight points to halve the deficit. The Jumbos responded forcefully, however, with two dunks by Garrett in the span of two minutes. By the time junior guard Vincent Pace knocked down a pair of free throws with 4:19 left in the first half, Tufts had leapt to a 40-20 lead, and the Jumbos entered the break with a 50-29 advantage.
In the first period, Garrett led all players with 12 points on a perfect five-for-five shooting, while junior guard Everett Dayton provided eight points and eight rebounds. For Pine Manor, junior guard Taverick Roberson needed 12 shots to register 11 points.
The Jumbos continued their dominance in the second half, as a three-pointer by Garrett at the 15:30 mark gave Tufts a 67-42 lead. From that point on, Tufts elected to rest several of its starters and fielded hybrid and bench units for the rest of the second half. Smith and Engvall, for example, exited the contest with 15:01 left in the second half. Accordingly, the final points total — including the fact that Pine Manor outscored Tufts in the second half, 58-56 — belied the uncompetitive nature of the latter portion of the encounter.
For the game, Garrett excelled once again in his role as the Jumbos’ sixth man, as he led all players with 23 points on a sterling 8-of-9 shooting (including a perfect 4-for-4 from long range) while also snagging six rebounds. His nineteen minutes included several stints as an undersized back-up center, filling in for both Palleschi and first-year center Patrick Racy, both of whom have missed time.
“[We’ll do] whatever we can do to help the team win,” Garrett said. “I’ll play one [point guard] or five [center] if I have to.”
Dayton also stood out, securing a double-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Three other Jumbos — Pace, sophomore guard Ethan Feldman and first-year guard Eric Savage — also cracked double-digit point totals, and senior tri-captain center Drew Madsen posted 11 rebounds and two blocks on the evening. In the waning minutes of the second half, junior guard Reed Thomas-McLean made both of his shots from the field, scoring four points.
For the visitors, first-year forward Rasheed Bell led the way with 22 points and four rebounds, while sophomore guard Erick Rosario contributed seven points, six rebounds and four steals from the bench.
This Friday, the Jumbos close out the regular season against the visiting Williams Ephs (16-6). Garrett underscored the game’s significance to the team.
“I want to first say that we’re kind of miffed that Amherst lost [Tuesday] night to Wesleyan,” he said. “And it wasn’t a conference game. It was a non-conference game they lost. So that was pretty unfortunate, because we both have two losses [to NESCAC opponents]. Going into this game, we have to get a win to host or just to get a good seeding in the conference playoffs, so yeah, it’s a pivotal game for sure.”
Engvall provided a similar perspective on the importance of the season finale.
“It’s just really important, not just as far as the NESCAC and the NESCAC season goes, but just as far as getting momentum going into the tournament,” he said. “We’ve slipped up a bit lately. We’ve had some tough losses, but I think we’re ready to get back on track and get ourselves back into winning ways.”
The Jumbos tip off against the Ephs at Cousens Gym tonight at 7 p.m.