Men’s basketball’s banner weekend includes win over NESCAC’s No. 2 Wesleyan

Junior guard Eric Savage dunks the ball during Tufts' 75-71 win over Wesleyan on Jan. 26. Evan Slack / The Tufts Daily

It was a big weekend at home for the Jumbos: After beating Conn. College by just four points on Friday night, they went 2-2 on the double-header by beating Wesleyan on Saturday afternoon by the same margin. The team showed its ability to bounce back after suffering a convincing 76–65 defeat to Bates College just six days before.

On Saturday, Tufts clinched a 75–71 upset win against a top-tier Wesleyan team, ranked 25th in Div. III play and second in the NESCAC behind Williams. The Cardinals (5–2) remain in second but are now only one game ahead of the Jumbos (4–3) in conference. The Jumbos snapped the Cardinals’ seven-game winning streak.

The win brings Tufts’ overall record to 10–10, an improvement from the team’s struggles earlier in the season. The Jumbos entered winter break at 4–5Wesleyan fell to 15–5 overall with the loss.

The Jumbos pulled away at the beginning of the game, scoring 11 unanswered points around the three-minute mark in the first half. Sophomore center Luke Rogers started the run with a free throw, and sophomore guard Justin Kouyoumdjian, sophomore guard Brennan Morris and junior guard and captain Eric Savage all added buckets of their own to run the score up to 17–4. The Jumbos carried this momentum to build a 20-point lead, ending the half up 44-24.

The Cardinals marched their way back in the second half and picked up as much as a six-point lead at one point. With just over seven minutes left, the Cardinals finally got their first lead of the game on sophomore Austin Hutcherson’s free throw. Tufts began to look porous on defense — one of coach Bob Sheldon’s major concerns for his young team. The Jumbos trailed by six with 4:48 left in the game. As the clocked ticked down, Tufts regained its fire on offense, led by Morris who drained two late-game threes to put the Jumbos up and over the Cardinals 75–71. 

“This weekend, our defense took great strides and we were able to string together stops, so instead of trading baskets with the other team we were able to go on 6–0, 8–0, 12–0, etc. runs which are huge for momentum,” Savage said. “All credit to our defensive effort this weekend by knowing the scout, limiting the other team’s open looks and finishing defensive possessions by rebounding as a team.”

Morris led the Jumbos’ scoring efforts with 20 points, putting up over a quarter of the team’s points. Savage led the team in assists with six and added 13 points of his own.

First-years on the team played their part, too; starting guard Tyler Aronson has assumed his role as a team leader already in his first season, and his classmates, such as guard Eric DeBrine, have also felt increasingly comfortable.

“With the team being so young, the [first-years] have a big role,” DeBrine told the Daily in an e-mail. “As [first-years] we are expected to continue working hard in practice to make ourselves and the rest of the team better and to learn as much information as possible to prepare us for the upcoming games and following seasons.”

On Friday night, Tufts held off a pesky Conn. College team through high-percentage shooting and high energy offense. Four Tufts players racked up double digit-points: Savage, Aronson, Rogers and Morris, who led the scoring effort with 16. Savage had a marquee night, adding 17 rebounds to his 15 points for a strong double-double.

In the first half, Tufts started slow, trailing by as much as seven points through the first five minutes. But the team-leading trio of Morris, Savage and Aronson took over the game and built up a 47–34 lead into the second half.

In the second half, the Camels battled back with a 7–0 run, slicing the Jumbos’ lead to three at 87–84. Junior guard Ben Bagnoli launched three after three for the Camels, keeping them too close for comfort. With 21 seconds left, the Jumbos were only up by two, 89–87.

Nevertheless, time was not on Conn.’s side, and after Tufts padded its lead with points from free throws off of intentional fouls, time had expired. The Jumbos had shrugged the Camels off and were victorious, 91–87. With the loss, the Camels fell to 6–13 overall and 0–6 in NESCAC play. Savage’s outstanding performance, highlighted by his 15-4-17 statline, also reflects his role in the locker room. 

“Eric Savage is our team captain and the voice of the locker room,” DeBrine said in the e-mail. “He knows what we have to do to win and helps the rest of the team realize that too.”

Tufts will continue its quest to rise up in the ranks this upcoming weekend on the road with a game at Amherst on Friday followed by a match-up with Hamilton on Saturday. For Savage, the future is filled with excitement and determination.

“Moving forward there’s naturally a sense of excitement after getting two big NESCAC wins, but our core goals are unchanged. We always knew we were capable of doing what it took to win and be competitive in the league and now we have some more proof for that belief.”


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