Jumbos suffer early exit from NESCAC tournament

The Tufts men’s basketball team suffered a potential season-ending loss on Saturday at Hamilton in the first round of the conference tournament. The 91–82 defeat makes it unlikely that the Jumbos will receive a bid to the NCAA tournament. If they don’t get a bid, the Jumbos will end the year with a 17–8 record overall and a modest 6–4 record in the NESCAC.

The team’s frustrating 2017-18 season comes on the heels of its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight appearances in the previous two years, respectively. The Jumbos came into the season ranked sixth in the country, but they never performed up to their lofty expectations.

On Saturday, the No. 15 Hamilton Continentals (22–3, 7–3 NESCAC), who finished the regular season third in the conference standings, outlasted the Jumbos in a game that came down to its final few possessions. Hamilton was led by the tandem of sophomore guard Kena Gilmour and junior forward Peter Hoffman, who scored 29 and 25 points, respectively.

“It is hard to win when you give up over 50 points to two guys,” senior guard and co-captain Everett Dayton said. “We still gave ourselves a chance though.”

The first half was tightly contested, with neither team establishing a decisive advantage. The first double-digit lead of the game occurred just minutes into the second half, when Hamilton took a 50–40 advantage over sixth-seeded Tufts. The Jumbos quickly responded, mounting a 17–6 run to go up one with 12 minutes remaining. The game went back-and-forth over the final 10 minutes, as Hamilton held a slim 81–79 lead with just over three minutes to go.

“It really came down to the last few possessions,” Dayton said. “It just didn’t come together at the end. Just one defensive lapse, and they ran with it.”

One of the defensive mistakes that Dayton referenced was Gilmour’s wide-open three-pointer from the top of the arc, which extended the Continentals’ lead to five at the 1:42 mark. Hamilton largely spent the remaining time at the free throw line, as Tufts was unable to claw back.

This is the first time that the Continentals have advanced to the conference semifinals, as they will face the second-seeded Williams Ephs (20–5, 7–3 NESCAC) on Saturday.

The Jumbos were led in scoring, as they often are, by senior guard and co-captain Vincent Pace. The Bridgewater, N.J. native complemented his 22-point performance with 11 rebounds, posting a double-double.

The slim difference in the game proved to be each team’s shooting success, as Hamilton finished 36-for-76 (47.4 percent) from the field, compared to Tufts’ 30-for-74 (40.5 percent) performance.

“We aren’t upset about the way we played,” Dayton said. “We just didn’t hit all the shots. That was really the difference.”

Tufts’ outgoing senior class — comprised of Pace, Dayton, co-captain Ben Engvall, co-captain Thomas Lapham, Kene Adigwe and KJ Garrett — racked up more wins in its four years than any other class in school history. Aided by multiple deep runs in the NCAA tournament, the six Jumbos are among the most decorated men’s basketball players in program history.

“It really hasn’t sunk in that it was our last game,” Dayton said. “It is pretty surreal.”

Sophomore guard Miles Bowser spoke to the leadership that the Tufts senior sextet has provided for the team’s younger players.

“The saddest part is thinking about not being able to play with those seniors again,” Bowser said. “They gave so much to Tufts, they are the winningest class in school history and they gave so much to us as underclassmen.”

Without a single junior on the team, the team’s current sophomores will be its most senior members next season.

“It is pretty scary, but these guys that led us are just the ultimate team guys, so they taught us how to do it,” Bowser said. “I’m excited for it.”

The team is now left to confront a long offseason, during which it will focus on coming back strong for the 2018-19 season. For the seniors, however, the next few days will be spent reflecting on their time playing for Tufts.

“We have all been lucky to play with each other for these past years,” Lapham said. “[It’s] sad to think about how it is probably over for us, but we have been so fortunate.”

Dayton echoed his classmate’s sentiments.

“We have had some great years, going to the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight,” Dayton said. “It is obviously tough for this season to end a little earlier than we thought, but I’m trying not to focus on that right now.”