Tufts splits road trip, now 4–3 in NESCAC

Senior guard Everett Dayton dribbles past a defender in a loss to Babson on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. (Eddie Samuels / The Tufts Daily)

The Tufts men’s basketball team went into the weekend with a heightened sense of urgency, as it prepared to face two in-conference opponents on the road. The Jumbos held a 3–2 record in the NESCAC and dropped slightly in the conference standings with a 4–3 record after splitting the weekend matchups. The team currently sits sixth in the conference, half a game behind Amherst, Hamilton and Williams, who are all tied for third at 4–2.

On Saturday, Tufts traveled to Middletown, Conn. for a matchup with Wesleyan, a team currently vying for the top spot in the NESCAC. The Jumbos held just one lead in the game, going up by one for a total of 24 seconds late in the second half. The hosts then scored nine straight points to run away with a victory.

Tufts got off to a slow start, missing its first five shots and scoring for the first time over three minutes into the half. The Cardinals continued to pour it on, leading by as many as 15 at the 8:55 mark. That lead was cut to eight by halftime, as the teams went into the locker room with Wesleyan up 34–26.

Senior guard and co-captain Vincent Pace said the team viewed the halftime score as a silver lining to its first half.

“We took some positives out of the first half, cutting their lead to a more manageable deficit,” Pace said. “But we definitely came out with more energy in the second half.”

Tufts came out of the locker room with a new mentality, ready to mount a comeback effort in a difficult road environment. Pace led the charge for the Jumbos in the second half, scoring 12 of his 19 points in the period. The Bridgewater, N.J. native also finished with eight rebounds in the game.

Pace’s scoring, along with some improved team defense, contributed to Tufts closing the gap. The Jumbos took their only lead of the contest on a jump shot by sophomore center Patrick Racy, as he put his team up 52–51 with 3:12 remaining.

The rest of the game was all Wesleyan, as Tufts failed to score again after taking the lead; the Cardinals scored nine unanswered points to close out the game. The game-clinching run was highlighted by six free throws in the final three minutes and a clutch three-pointer by junior guard Jordan Bonner. 

Pace led his team in scoring on Saturday, as he has done all season. He conceded, however, that his individual performance is no consolation to a loss.

“Regardless of how many points anyone scores, it stinks to lose,” Pace said. “I could have led the team in scoring, [or] I could have not scored at all — a loss hurts just the same.”

According to senior guard and co-captain Thomas Lapham, the players are holding their heads high despite the painful loss to Wesleyan.

“I don’t remember the last time we scored 52 points in a game,” Lapham said. “The loss definitely stings, but we have confidence that we can beat [Wesleyan] if we face them again. We know we might have to go through them to win a NESCAC championship.”

On Friday, the result was much different for Tufts, as it put up a dominant performance against Conn. College in winning 86–54. With the loss to the Jumbos, as well as one to the Bates Bobcats the following day, the Camels fell to 0–7 in the NESCAC, as they remain the only team in the NESCAC without an in-conference victory.

The Jumbos lit up the Camels on their own court, going up 7–0 to start the game and never looking back. They held the lead for the entire game, the biggest of which was the final, 32-point margin.

Tufts shot 44.2 percent (34-of-77) from the field, while holding Conn. College to 33.8 percent (23-of-68). The victors also tallied more rebounds, more assists, more steals, more blocks and fewer turnovers than their opponents.

The Jumbos’ attack was led, of course, by Pace’s 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Right behind Pace was senior guard and co-captain Everett Dayton, who scored 14 points. First-year guard Will Brady provided a spark off the bench, scoring 12 points and hitting four three-pointers on only five attempts.

Including the game against Conn. College, Tufts is 6–2 this season when Pace scores at least 20 points. The co-captain has downplayed his individual performance, but despite his humility, his teammates (and the statistics) reveal how crucial Pace is to the Jumbos’ success.

“Vinny is one of the best, if not the best, scorers in the NESCAC,” Lapham said. “If he gets it going, especially from three like he did against Conn. College, it makes us a lot harder to guard. He’s definitely our offensive leader.”

Tufts will close out the month of January at home against UMass-Dartmouth (11–8) tonight at 7 p.m. The team then plays its final three regular season games, all against NESCAC opponents at home. Tufts will take on Amherst (12–6, 4–2 NESCAC), Hamilton (17–2, 4-2) and Trinity (13–6, 2–4) to close out the regular season.