With its regular season and NESCAC schedule coming to a close, the Tufts men’s basketball team squared off against Amherst and Hamilton on Friday and Saturday, finishing the weekend with a win and a loss.
On Saturday, the Jumbos hosted the No. 21 Hamilton Continentals (19–2) in what was likely their biggest remaining test on the regular season docket. Hamilton is by far the best offensive team in the NESCAC, scoring an average of 87.7 points per game.
While the Jumbos didn’t allow the Continentals to reach that number, they still struggled to keep up with the visitors’ high-octane offense. The first half started slow, with neither team scoring until about two and a half minutes into the first half. The squads remained close throughout the half: the largest lead by either team was a mere six-point advantage by Hamilton. The teams headed to the locker room with the Continentals up 29–25.
The Jumbos’ lack of shooting came to haunt them in the latter half of the game. While they held their own throughout the first 10 minutes of the second period, the team started unraveling as Hamilton’s offense came to life. After sophomore guard Eric Savage’s three-pointer cut the Jumbos’ deficit to one with 14 minutes remaining, the Continentals pulled away on a 25–10 run that put the game out of reach. It ended 74–57.
“We kind of let them get away from us,” Savage said. “They killed us on the offensive glass and got a lot of second-chance opportunities.”
Overall, Tufts shot just 24.1 percent (14-for-58) from the field during the game, which wasn’t enough to keep up with an offensive power like Hamilton. Tufts put together a decent defensive effort, holding Hamilton below its season averages in points per game, field goal percentage (40.4 percent vs. a season-average of 46.2 percent) and three-point percentage (18.2 percent compared to 36.2 percent), but the shots just weren’t falling on its own end.
“We’ve been struggling with bringing the energy every given night,” Savage said. “Other teams seem to be out-energizing us, and you can’t win a lot of basketball games if you’re being outworked.”
On Friday, the Amherst Mammoths (14–7) came to town for a gritty, down-to-the-wire matchup that ended with the hosts on top, 60–56. Neither team shot particularly well — Amherst knocked down 34.8 percent of its field goal attempts, which slightly topped Tufts’ mark of 33.8 percent. As such, the game came down to pure determination and some clutch free throws, the latter of which Tufts converted at a higher rate (12-of-16 vs. Amherst’s 5-of-10).
The teams traded buckets throughout a hotly contested first half. Senior guard and co-captain Vincent Pace dropped 13 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, as Tufts went into halftime with a 29–24 lead.
The second half was just as back-and-forth, with both teams holding leads for a few minutes at a time. The Jumbos appeared to be in danger with five minutes to go, as the Mammoths grabbed a 50–46 advantage. However, Pace nailed a three-pointer and converted an and-one layup in successive possessions to give Tufts a 52–50 lead.
Tufts did not relinquish its lead for the rest of the game. Any time the Mammoths came up with a bucket to tie the score, the Jumbos came right back with a score of their own. Free-throw shooting might have been the difference, as Tufts converted all seven of its attempts from the charity strike in the final three minutes, while Amherst went 2-for-4. The Mammoths’ trips to the line could have either tied the game or cut their deficit to one, but both times they missed a free throw. Tufts sealed the 60–56 victory with two clutch free throws by sophomore center Patrick Racy with a few seconds remaining.
“Down the stretch [at Amherst] we were able to play good solid defense,” Savage said. “It’s been a staple of our game the past few weeks, which is something that we didn’t really expect to be a staple of ours at the beginning of the year.”
Pace’s spectacular scoring night ended with a game-high 27 points. He also contributed eight rebounds and four assists. Other notable performances included Racy, who put up six points and eight boards in 20 minutes, and senior guard and co-captain Everett Dayton, who posted a line of nine points, three boards and two assists.
“[Pace] kind of carried us,” senior guard and co-captain Thomas Lapham said. “He was making a lot of big buckets down the stretch.”
The Jumbos are now 16–7 in the year, with a 5–4 record in the NESCAC. They have one game remaining on their regular season schedule, as the Trinity Bantams (14–7, 3–4 NESCAC) come to town on Sunday before the conference tournament begins in mid-February.
“Our tournament starts this weekend against Trinity,” Lapham said. “We just have to take it weekend-by-weekend and win.”