After capping off a 23-1 regular season, where the Jumbos finished 9-1 in the NESCAC, 8-1 at home and an undefeated 12-0 on the road, the Jumbos will begin their postseason against the Williams Ephs this weekend at Cousens Gym, in what could be their only home game of the NESCAC tournament.
“A factor [about playing Williams] this weekend is that we’re playing at home, and potentially our only NESCAC playoff game at home, in front of our family and friends, so we’re really excited to play at Cousens,” junior tri-captain point guard Lauren Dillon said.
Tufts played Williams in their final regular season NESCAC game just a week ago on Feb. 10, defeating the hosts 61-27 in a game where Tufts led from start to finish, leading by as many as 35 points at one time.
The Jumbos held the Ephs to just 21.6 percent shooting on the day and allowed just four points in the paint while forcing 26 turnovers by the hosts. The Jumbos’ characteristic defensive prowess was on full display against the Ephs, holding their opponents to six or fewer points in three of the four quarters.
At the same time, the Jumbos recognize that the stakes will be different playing Williams this weekend.
“We know that any NESCAC team on any given day can win a basketball game,” Dillon said. “We know that maybe Williams didn’t give us their best game last week [but] they can just as easily come post season, show up and win a game. We know that every team is going to show up and give us their all especially because it’s postseason.”
Williams finished their regular season with an emphatic 91-65 victory over Bates, finishing 15-9 overall and 4-6 in the conference and averaging 58.7 points per game. The Ephs’ offense will be led by senior co-captain guard Devon Caveney and junior Kristin Fechtelkotter, who averaged 13.1 and 10.5 points a game in the regular season respectively. The Ephs will be looking to rework their offensive strategy on Saturday after Caveney was held to just six points last weekend on 2-of-10 shooting while the Jumbos will similarly be reviewing tapes and making adjustments.
“We just played Williams so it won’t be too much new stuff — just watching film and seeing what we can improve on from our last game against them; we’ve been doing that a lot. [We’ve been] going over the scout like we always do before games,” senior tri-captain forward Michela North said. “It’s good because we only have one game this week and that makes it a lot easier for everyone.”
Tufts will be hoping to capitalize on the momentum generated from its last two games, against Williams and their regular season finale against Rhode Island College (RIC), that had been rescheduled from Jan. 31. After their 34-point victory of Williams, Tufts blew past RIC 74-27, with their 47-point win margin being their largest of the season.
“We had a really great regular season and it’s definitely big for all of us,” North said. “Definitely getting those last two wins gave us some confidence back after losing to Amherst, and having a really solid two games going into the postseason kind of gives us that extra kick to keep going each day.”
After suffering its first and only loss of the season to Amherst in the closing minutes of the game on Feb. 4, Dillon believes that the loss will provide the additional motivation for the team in the NESCAC tournament and the upcoming NCAA tournament.
“We’re using the Amherst loss as fuel. It’s in the past, it hurts, it happened, but we’re using it now to fuel us into the postseason,” Dillon said. “That might actually give us an edge into the postseason and possibly playing [Amherst] again.”
As the Jumbos head into the postseason, their 23-1 record is already an improvement off their 21-2 record at this time last season.
“I’m proud of our 23-1 record,” Dillon said. “Last year, going [into the] postseason our record was worse than that and I love that we went into the season striving for better and we achieved that, and not a lot of teams can say that they had that record this season.”
Tufts’ near-perfect regular season record seems even more impressive given that the team remained undefeated on the road this season, despite playing more away games than home.
“Overall, we had a lot of away games this season, more than normal, and in the beginning of the season at Skidmore we had some close games, closer than we thought they should have been, but throughout the season we definitely improved on overall play, focusing on getting off the bus, getting into game mentality and being ready to play at all times, whether at home or after being on a bus for five hours,” North said. “I think we’ve definitely gotten better playing at away gyms so I’m definitely proud of that, at being able to play our best basketball no matter where we are.”
The team’s experience on the road this season will be crucial this postseason. This Saturday’s home bout against Williams has the potential to be the team’s only home game of the NESCAC tournament. Regardless of the team’s showing at the NESCAC tournament, an appearance at the NCAA tournament seems likely for the Jumbos, but home court advantage is not a given.
Yet North is confident that the experience of the team, most of which played in the National Championship last year, and many of whom have been to the Final Four multiple times, will lay the framework for success in this part of the season.
“Our team is very experienced, [the] majority of people on the team were at the National Championship last year, and have Final Four experience,” North said. “Three of us, the seniors, have been at the Final Four every year so we definitely have a lot of experience, not just in NESCAC games but tournament games where when you lose, you’re done. So we’re taking that mentality into account and kind of relaying that to the freshmen, that every game is just as important as the others.”