Men’s basketball sweeps road trip, clinches No. 1 spot in NESCAC

Guard Thomas Lapham (LA'18) leaps for a shot in the game against Trinity College on Feb. 11, 2018. Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily Archives

With an 87–61 win over the Conn. College Camels (4–18, 0–8 NESCAC) on Saturday and an 88–58 win over the Trinity Bantams (15–7,  5–3 NESCAC) on Friday, the men’s basketball team (18–4, 8–0 NESCAC) clinched the No. 1 seed in the upcoming NESCAC tournament.

Senior guard and co-captain Eric Savage scored seven of the Jumbos’ first nine points on Saturday, including a contested 3-pointer that put the Jumbos ahead 9–7 with 16:19 remaining in the first half. Savage’s three was the start of a 28–8 run that was capped off by two consecutive 3-pointers from junior guard Brennan Morris. The Jumbos relied heavily on the three ball in the first half, sinking nine threes while shooting 60% from beyond the arc. 

“We knew they were going to play zone going in — the best way to beat a zone is to get the ball to the middle, so the defense collapses, and then the guy in the middle can find the shooters,” Savage said. “We did a great job getting the ball to the middle and seeing what they gave us. That turned into open shots for a lot of guys you can’t give open shots to because they’re going to knock them down.”

Meanwhile, Conn. College struggled mightily from 3-point range the entire game, converting on only three of their 22 attempts. Junior forward Daniel Draffan was able to find some offensive success for the Camels, scoring 13 of his 21 points in the first half. 

A 3-pointer from first-year guard Dylan Thoerner with 11 seconds remaining in the first half put the Jumbos up 53–29 going into the break. The Jumbos cooled down offensively in the second half, shooting 39.3% from the field and 36.4% from three. The second half defensive effort remained strong for the Jumbos as they limited the Camels to 31.4% from the field.

With a comfortable lead for much of the game and the postseason just around the corner, coach Bob Sheldon was able to rest his starters, while providing his bench some extra minutes. The Tufts bench responded well, outscoring Conn. College’s bench 43–7.

Thoerner came off the bench and went eight for nine from the field, scoring a career high 21 points in just 20 minutes. Thoerner led four Jumbos in double figures for scoring, with Morris scoring 15, Savage finishing with 12 and junior center Luke Rogers adding 10 points. Rogers also served as the Jumbos’ defensive anchor, finishing with six blocks and limiting the Camels’ production in the paint. Junior guard Justin Kouyoumdjian and sophomore guard Carsen Cohen chipped in seven points apiece. 

“My friends did a great job of feeding me the ball and I was able to get to the spots that I’m comfortable in,” Thoerner said. “I was on fire that game.”

This win and Colby’s loss to Amherst allowed the Jumbos to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NESCAC tournament.

“It’s literally unbelievable,” Thoerner said. “I can’t think of a better way to start my college career at Tufts. We have a good group of guys. We’re all friends and we all play hard together. Especially in the NESCAC when it’s super tough and competitive, earning the one seed is a great feeling. It shows how hard my friends and I have worked all season.”

The team traveled to Hartford, Conn. on Friday and defeated Trinity 88–58. The Jumbos never trailed in the contest and jumped out to an 8–2 lead behind buckets from Rogers, Morris and Savage. Starting strong has been an important element in the Jumbos’ recent success, according to Savage.

“We definitely got off to a really good start,” Savage said. “I think that’s been a trend the past few weeks. We’ve been doing a great job of forcing other teams into bad shots on their first possessions, and on our first possessions, the ball has been moving really well and we’ve been getting open looks.”

After a 3-pointer from Morris with 15:59 remaining in the first half, the Bantams cut the lead to 12–7. Another 3-pointer from Morris three possessions later pushed the Jumbos’ lead to eight.

The Jumbos extended their lead to 41–21 going into halftime with starters Morris, Savage and Rogers doing most of the scoring. Morris finished the game with 20 points on six for 11 shooting (five for nine on 3-pointers) while Rogers scored 16 points, collected six rebounds and finished with a pair of steals and blocks. Savage did a little bit of everything, stuffing the stat sheet with 19 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

Throughout the game the Jumbos’ defense made it difficult for the Bantams to get anything going offensively. The Bantams shot 28.6% from the field and only 15% from beyond the arc en route to a tie for their lowest point total of the season. 

The Jumbos will wrap up the regular season with a 7 p.m. game tonight at Middlebury and a 3 p.m. game tomorrow at Williams. The NESCAC tournament begins the following weekend, with final seeding determined after this weekend’s NESCAC matchups.

“We’re as hungry as ever to go get one at Middlebury on Friday and then try to finish the season 10–0 [in the NESCAC] — something that’s never been done in Tufts history,” Savage said.