Men’s basketball set to take on Saint Joseph’s in season opener

Tufts' junior guard and captain Eric Savage looks for a pass in the team's 91–82 loss against Hamilton in the NESCAC quarterfinal on Feb. 2. Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily Archives

The Jumbos open their season this weekend in the Courtyard by Marriott tournament at Roger Williams University (RWU). The team will play two matches, first against Saint Joseph’s (Maine) on Friday night before taking on the winner of the Anna Maria-RWU matchup on Saturday. The team looks to build upon last year’s success where it reached the quarterfinals of a competitive NESCAC tournament.

Bob Sheldon will once again lead the team into the new season as head coach and will be assisted by associate head coach Matt Malone and assistants Derek Retos and Chris Giordano.

After the tournament, the team returns home to face MIT in Cambridge on Tuesday.

“We’re really fired up for the season,” junior guard and captain Eric Savage said. “We are a super young team but we are embracing it and attacking this year with a ‘why not us?’ attitude.”

After a 17–8 record last season, the Jumbos fell to the Hamilton Continentals 91–82 on Feb. 17, the final game for their six graduating seniors.

Vincent Pace (LA ’18), Tufts’ 10th leading scorer of all time, scored 1,395 points over 100 career games. He finished third in the league with 18.3 points per game last season, coupled with 8.3 rebounds and 74.3 percent free throw shooting. A product of his efforts, Pace was selected for the All-Conference NESCAC squad and will not be easily replaced. His performances also earned him a professional contract at Gzira Athleta of the Malta Basketball Association.

The team features many new faces this season, all of whom will have the opportunity to make an immediate impact. Walk-ons and first-years particularly have a chance to impress the coaching staff.

“Last year we had a lot of seniors, and now we have the opportunity to run a two-year program with a team based on primarily juniors and younger,” Sheldon said. “Brian Creonte is our only senior this year.”

Newcomers include first-year guards Tyler Aronson, Eric DeBrine, Emmett Stein and Carson Cohen, as well as 6-foot-6 center Kieran Kindig.

“I’m really excited about all the [first-years], they have each shown flashes of really good stuff in practice. Our walk-ons have been doing a great job as well, coming with really positive attitudes and being great locker room guys,” Savage said.

According to Sheldon, Aronson, a Holliston, Mass. native, will start in the season opener as the team’s two-guard. The head coach lauded his high school talent. He cited DeBrine as a strong addition who promises to stretch the floor with his sharp shooting.

Kindig, along with veteran centers Patrick Racy (6 feet 6 inches), Max Oppenheim (6 feet 8 inches) and Luke Rogers (6 feet 8 inches), combine to form an equally tall, if not even taller team than last year; an advantage the team hopes to leverage in lieu of last year’s slew of experienced seniors. Pace’s graduation also will change the way the team executes its game plan this year.

“The [first-years] are playing great in practice, and Tyler Aronson, [Eric] DeBrine and Carson Cohen will definitely have the opportunity for a lot of playing time,” Sheldon said. “Without Vinny, we expect to spread the ball around a lot more this year. We usually play nine or 10 guys each game, and we’ve been moving the ball a lot in practice so far.”

The recent graduating squad was a group of all-time great Tufts players; the beginning of this season will mark a bit of a readjustment period. Savage will likely be one of the team’s most consistent top scorers, but everyone will have the opportunity to play hard and put up strong numbers in the face of a strong NESCAC conference.

“Hamilton and Williams will continue to be powerhouses,” Sheldon said. “Hamilton’s team was mostly juniors last year, and now they’re seniors, and this is what they’ve been working up towards. Williams is always a top contender, so those two will be the teams we’re watching out for most.”

In fact, five teams tied for first in the NESCAC with 7–3 records last season, with the Jumbos finishing ‘second’ at 6–4. The team will have its work cut out for it. With only eight home games slated for the regular season, the Jumbos will be on the road looking to prove their strength.

Tufts expects to maintain its strong performance and pave the way for a new corps of players to rise toward their senior year next year. After four games in November, Tufts’ season will pick up in full force in December and January, particularly with matches every weekend at the turn of the year.

For Savage, the new season marks a fresh opportunity to compete and leave it all on the court.

“Our expectations are the same as they are every year,” Savage said. “We want to compete at the top of the NESCAC and position ourselves for postseason opportunities to play for championships.”