In the first game of the 2019–20 season, the men’s basketball team defeated Emerson College 103–82, as senior guard and co-captain Eric Savage led the day tying a personal record of 27 points. The non-conference matchup was also Emerson’s first loss of the season, now 2–1.
The Jumbos got off to a quick start in what was mostly a close game. Sophomore guard Carson Cohen drained a 3 on the first possession, and layups from junior center Luke Rogers and Cohen quickly brought the Jumbos’ lead to seven.
Through the next 12 minutes, the Jumbos controlled the lead against the Lions. With five minutes remaining in the first half, Lions guard Chad DiCenzo made a layup, and a foul on the play from Jumbos junior guard Justin Kouyoumdjian gave DiCenzo a chance for a 3-point play. DiCenzo made the free throw, which tied the score 30–30.
However, the Jumbos regained their lead as Savage scored 10 points in the remaining five minutes of the half. At halftime, the score stood at 49–42 in favor of the visiting Jumbos.
The second half continued similarly. The Jumbos led by about 10 for most of the half, though the Lions pulled close, down only 73–67 with just under eight minutes remaining on the clock.
However, the Jumbos quickly responded. Cohen sunk a jump shot, then the Lions turned the ball over and junior guard Brennan Morris made a 3 to bring the lead back to 11. The Jumbos maintained their double-digit lead for the remainder of the game. With 2:55 remaining, Morris sunk a 3, giving the Jumbos their largest lead of the game, 97–73.
At the final whistle, the Jumbos won by a 21-point margin, 103–82.
Junior center and co-captain Max Oppenheim spoke about how he believed the team performed in Saturday’s contest.
“I think we played really well yesterday. We rebounded really well on the defensive glass, which is something that we emphasized coming in,” Oppenheim said. “Obviously, the first game of the season there’s always ways to improve. Defensively, we need to do a better job on our rotations — we got lost a couple of times. Overall, for our first game, definitely a positive outlook.”
Savage’s 27 points tied a career high, which he set in an 83–68 win against Webster University on Nov. 17, 2017; Savage also had 12 rebounds and five assists.
“Being able to contribute any way that I can help the team win is what’s most important to me,” Savage said. “On Saturday, I was able to get to the rim and make a lot of shots for us, but on Tuesday, it might be another guy stepping up”
The Jumbos had two players with double-doubles: Rogers with 21 points and 12 rebounds and Morris with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Morris also led the team in 3-point shooting, going four for seven.
Oppenheim explained how four Tufts players were able to break into the double-digits for points.
“Obviously, we had four guys in double figures, a lot of guys get shots, our shooting percentage was pretty high because we were just swinging the ball and getting open shots,” Oppenheim said. “Unselfishness on offense and rebounding on defense really helped us out.”
While the Lions had double-digit scorers with guards Jack O’Connor, Nate Martin and Zach Waterhouse, the Jumbos had the better day offensively. The Jumbos shot 59% from the field and 44.4% from behind the arc, while the Lions shot 43.7% from the field and 25% from behind the arc.
Looking forward, the Jumbos hope to build upon the momentum from the end of last year’s campaign. While their record was not great — 4–6 in the NESCAC, 11–13 overall — the team managed to defeat the No. 1 seed, Middlebury, in the first round of the NESCAC tournament. The win was the first time in NESCAC history that a No. 8 seed defeated a No. 1 seed.
The Jumbos have youth and depth to build on, too: Savage is the only senior on the team. Coach Bob Sheldon Jr. will look to maximize his depth, which was evident in the Emerson game, as four players came off the bench to play 10 or more minutes. Savage also explained that although the roster skews to the younger side, that does not translate to a lack of experience.
“It’s definitely an asset and a liability in some regards,” Savage said. “I think, despite having a young team, we do have a lot of experience. A lot of the guys who are sophomores now and were first-years last year — they contributed big minutes last year. So even though they are only sophomores, they’re more experienced than the average sophomore in the league. And the same thing goes for our juniors … I think being young is an asset because it keeps us excited and motivated without the problem of lack of experience.”
This week, the Jumbos have three games on the schedule, all at home in Cousens Gym. The team hosts the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth on Tuesday at 7 p.m., Lasell College on Thursday at 7 p.m. and the University of Saint Joseph on Saturday at 2 p.m.