Tufts recorded a mixed start to the season, winning both games at the RWU / Courtyard by Marriott Tournament, before losing its next two games, including its home opener against WPI.
The WPI Engineers traveled to Cousens Gymnasium Tuesday for an out-of-conference game against the Jumbos. This was the home opener for Tufts, as well as the first game back for junior guard and co-captain Eric Savage.
The Jumbos ended up on the losing end of this game in a blowout, 89–66. Savage came off the bench for his first game back, finishing with five points and five rebounds in 22 minutes of action.
The first half of the game was very tight, as both teams traded buckets. The Jumbos attacked the Engineers’ zone defense by moving the ball and scoring inside. Their first-half offense was built around the 6-foot-8 sophomore center Luke Rogers who was able to out-reach his matchup. Rogers, who was named NESCAC Player of the Week in the season’s first week, would end up with 23 points and six rebounds on an efficient 10-of-13 from the floor.
Rogers praised his teammates’ performance, which he believes allowed him to find success with scoring inside.
“[My teammates] opened things up for me,” Rogers said. “I’m surrounded by a great core of shooters. They really space the floor for me down low. Them moving off the ball and getting open was the key to helping me find success inside the paint.”
Meanwhile, the Engineers ran their offense in the first few minutes through sophomore forward Reid Walker. While he took a back seat in favor of a more balanced offensive approach later in the game, Walker still had a strong game, tallying 18 points, six rebounds and six assists.
For the first seven minutes of the first half, no team held a lead of more than three points. Tufts took its largest lead of the game, 22–14, on a jumpshot by Rogers with less than 11 minutes left in the first half. The Engineers then went on a 9–0 run, taking the lead 23–22 on a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Jake Needleman. The teams traded blows the rest of the half, with neither team gathering enough momentum to pull away with a big lead. With 31 seconds left in the half, first-year guard Carson Cohen hit a three-pointer to give the Jumbos a two-point lead going into halftime, 42–40.
Though the Jumbos took the momentum into halftime, the second half seemed like a completely different game. Tufts shot 16-of-28 in the first half, but regressed to a 6-of-30 clip in the second. The Jumbos were 1-for-13 on 3-pointers in the second half, shooting from deep very early in the shot clock on several possessions.
Tufts coach Bob Sheldon noted some of the reasons for his team’s regression in the second half.
“Once things started to go south, we panicked,” Sheldon said. “We didn’t pass the ball as much. We took some shots we shouldn’t have taken. There was a lot of stuff that’s correctable.”
The first eight minutes of the second half saw a 24–5 run by the Engineers. The Jumbos could not seem to hit their shots, especially from outside. WPI’s zone defense found success, and its defensive stops created fast break opportunities. The final blow of the 19-point swing came on a 3-pointer from Reid.
While the Jumbos tried to fight back, they could not find the inside scoring success that propelled them in the first half. The offensive onslaught ended with the Engineers taking the game by 23 points. Sophomore forward Dakota Wheeler was an important part of WPI’s success in the second half, hitting several key 3-pointers. Wheeler ended the day with 14 points while hitting four of his six 3-point attempts for a strong game off of the bench.
Sheldon believes that his team has a lot of room to grow after the loss.
“We’re a very young team,” Sheldon said. “We started two [first-years] and three sophomores and we only have two juniors on the team. There’s going to be nights where we’re inconsistent. There’s going to be nights like that, so one of the things we have to work on as a team is being consistent.”
Tufts fell 98–92 to neighboring MIT on Nov. 20, before Thanksgiving break. Once again, Tufts held a narrow lead after the first half. Its largest lead in the half was 12 after sophomore guard Brennan Morris sunk a 3-point shot with 3:27 to play in the first half. This lead narrowed to four as first-year guard Dan Pilsbury grabbed the defensive rebound and made a 3-pointer.
MIT’s improved field goal shooting in the second half — from 13-of-28 (46.4 percent) to 19-of-33 (57.6 percent) — allowed it to force overtime. MIT senior forward Tim Roberts put up five of MIT’s 12 points in the overtime period to seal victory for the home team.
On the weekend of Nov. 16–17, Tufts started its season out strongly with two wins at the RWU / Courtyard by Marriott Tournament. In contrast to its recent two games, Tufts trailed in the first half in both games at the tournament. On Nov. 17, Tufts recorded a 88–84 victory over hosts RWU. While Tufts trailed by three at the half, the team was able to put up 50 points in the second half to steal a victory. A Rogers’ jumpshot with 10:34 on the clock gave the visitors the lead, which it never relinquished. He led the way with 32 points and 17 rebounds, and also helped the Jumbos dominate the backboard with 46 rebounds compared to RWU’s 31. Tufts’ success from the free-throw line also gave the team an advantage, as the team was 20-of-28 (71.4 percent) compared to RWU’s 14-of-22 (63.6 percent).
A day earlier, Tufts made a winning start to its season, defeating Saint Joseph’s (Maine) 88–83. Tufts put up 51 points in the second half, improving its 3-point shooting, from 3-of-12 (25 percent) in the first half to 7-of-16 (43.8 percent) in the second period. Cohen impressed in his first collegiate game with team-highs of 22 points and four assists. Fellow first-year guard Tyler Aronson also put up 15 points of his own.
While the team is young, Rogers commended his first-year teammates for stepping into the starting lineup and producing.
“[The first-years] have been unbelievable,” Rogers said. “They’ve really stepped up, and they’re coming into some pretty difficult roles. Our team has a lot of big shoes to fill, and they’ve come in and kept their heads on.”
The Jumbos graduated six standout seniors last year, so production from first-years and sophomores will be important for the team’s success. Tufts will travel to Babson for the New England Big 4 Challenge Saturday. Babson, Brandeis and Salem State will also take part in the four-team tournament.