Jumbos earn two midweek road wins

Sophomore guard Miles Bowser looks to pass in a 77-–67 loss to Salem State at Cousens Gymnasium on Dec. 2. (Eddie Samuels / The Tufts Daily)

After a 3–3 start, the Jumbos have started to steer their season in the right direction with three straight victories. Following a buzzer-beating three-pointer by senior quad-captain Vincent Pace against Brandeis last weekend, Tufts rattled off back-to-back mid-week road wins against Emerson and UMass-Boston.

Though both games show up equally in the win column, the Jumbos took very different routes to their eventual wins. While Tufts was forced to mount a major comeback against Emerson on Wednesday, Thursday’s game at UMass-Boston required no such effort.

Both the Jumbos and the Beacons got off to slow starts on Thursday, with neither team converting a field goal until Pace’s layup over four minutes into the first half. While Tufts’ offense then heated up, its defense locked down: UMass-Boston shot just 12 percent from the field in the first half, converting only four field goals.

Tufts jumped out to a 29–1 advantage and took a 42–18 lead into the halftime break. No Jumbo scored double digits in the first half, as the team’s balanced attack shot 16–38 from the field. Although the Jumbos’ defense established a lead they would not relinquish, senior quad-captain guard Thomas Lapham saw room for improvement.

“Our defensive intensity was great in the beginning of the game,” Lapham said. “Unfortunately, we got a little complacent. We have to be able to sustain that for the whole game.”

While the game ended with a score of 73–58, sophomore guard Miles Bowser agreed that the continued lead contributed to late-game complacency.

“It’s hard not to get a little complacent with a lead that large,” Bowser said. “We were just focusing on our sets and trying to execute, but we all know we let our foot off the gas a little too much in the second half.”

The brightest spot of the day for Tufts was first-year center Luke Rogers’ play. Rogers, who recently returned from injury, led the scoring effort with 14 points in just 10 minutes off the bench. The Boxborough, Mass. native shot six-of-seven from the field and was an integral part of an interior defensive effort that held UMass-Boston to only 14 points in the paint.

“It is great to have Luke back. He just gives us more mobility for our big men,” Lapham said. “[First-year center] Max Oppenheim has also been huge for us lately. They are going to keep getting minutes, so we need them to keep playing big for us.”

Wednesday’s game against Emerson was Tufts’ greatest exhibition of resilience thus far in the young season. The Lions took a 16-point lead into the half, powered by the play of junior guard Geoffrey Gray, who put up 14 points and seven boards in the first frame. Fueled by Gray, the hosts broke the game open with a 16-3 run and established their double-digit lead.

“We just weren’t getting stops. Pretty simple. We missed a lot of defensive rotations, and they are a good team, so they hit their open shots,” Lapham said.

But the game was a tale of two halves, and the Jumbos dominated the second period. With prolific scoring from Pace and sophomore guard Eric Savage, Tufts staged multiple runs during the second half, but it was the defense that turned the game around. The halftime adjustment was clear, as the Jumbos shifted their defensive scheme to a 2–3 zone in an effort to limit the Lions’ shooting, who converted at a 62.1 percent clip in the first half (18–29). Emerson was held scoreless through the first five minutes of the second half and only registered 25 points in the entire frame. The Jumbos’ zone forced the Lions into attempting 14 threes in the second half, of which they only converted three.

“They really struggled with our zone,” Lapham said. “When we are putting together stops, we are really tough to beat.”

The Lions shot 26.5 percent from the field in the second half and the Jumbos went 16-for-32, led by a 23-point half from Pace. However, the Lions still held a 13-point lead deep into the second half. Once again, the Jumbos responded, pulling even on a Pace three-pointer with 90 seconds left that capped an 18–5 run. The defense continued its dominance, holding Emerson scoreless in the final three minutes as Tufts calmly finished off the comeback, turning the 67–67 tie into a 71–67 victory.

Pace’s heroics carried him to a 30-point outing. The Bridgewater, N.J. native is now averaging just shy of 19 points per game. Savage was the complementary scorer, putting up 19 of his own to go with seven rebounds.

Though happy about the win, the Jumbos weren’t too quick to give themselves any credit. Senior quad-captain guard Ben Engvall, who has been sidelined this season with an ACL injury, noted the team’s room for improvement.

“These are games we should be winning, so it’s good that we are doing our job, but we are not always going to be able to come back like this,” Engvall said. “It has to be like the second half for the full 40 minutes.”

The Jumbos are nearing their winter-break trip to California, where they’ll look to maintain their winning momentum.

“Desperation kicked in a little bit for us,” Engvall said. “We know how good we can be, and we can’t afford too many more losses if we want to be in national tournament contention. We know what we have to do, and we know how to do it. We will be fine.”