After a two-year hiatus from seeing action on the court, Tufts men’s basketball returned on Tuesday to play its first regular season game of the 2021–22 season against the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Since their successful 2019 postseason run, the Jumbos have hired a new coach in Brandon Linton and return four starters and thirteen total players to their roster from 2019. The four starters, senior center and co-captain Luke Rogers, senior guard Brennan Morris, junior guard and co-captain Tyler Aronson, and junior guard Carson Cohen, will attempt to build on their NESCAC Championship and make a run at the NCAA Championship this season. However, the Jumbos also need to lose the rust and relearn how to play with intensity, which they lacked in their first game back. In the tough NESCAC division, the last team to surrender usually comes out on top. Aronson explained how the team felt ready to play, but still needed some time to figure out the kinks.
“We thought we had a little bit of unfinished business coming off that great Sweet Sixteen run, but being back on the floor with the guys after two years of waiting and just practicing was really great and I felt good,” Aronson said. “I think we forgot how to compete a little bit and that’s kind of why we let the game go, but we’ll bounce back on Thursday.”
Tufts came out flat to start its game at UMass Dartmouth. The Jumbos turned the ball over 11 times in the first half and struggled to find any consistency offensively. Rogers, the All-American and the 2019 NESCAC Player of the Year, kept the Jumbos in the game early with his post presence. In a scary turn of events, Rogers banged knees with a Corsairs defender and limped off the floor. He did not return for the rest of the game. Without Rogers, the offensive load fell on the shoulders of Aronson and Cohen. Aronson scored 12 points in the first half, but the Jumbos only shot 18.2% from three. In Rogers’ absence, coach Linton needs his backcourt to step up, and Cohen knows what comes with that responsibility.
“We have to be leaders on the court, we have to organize the team, and just talking about Tuesday night, we didn’t do a good job of really keeping it organized,” Cohen said. “As the year progresses, it’s going to really fall on us a lot to not only take on a scoring and distribution load, but just pulling the team together and making sure that we’re all on the same page.”
After a slow first period the Jumbos managed to catch up with the Corsairs and tie the game 34–34 close to the five-minute mark. Right when the game looked in play for the Jumbos, the Corsairs went on a 16–5 run to end the half up 50–39 with the momentum back on their side. The second half quickly got out of control for Tufts and although the Jumbos made a couple runs to try and get back in the game, they failed to take advantage of missed shots and turnovers from the Corsairs. Cohen explained how the Jumbos can learn from this loss.
“We weren’t really competing at a level that we know how to compete at and the details weren’t really there for us,” he said. “It’s great because it’s all correctable stuff and we were able to get back at it yesterday during practice and really work on some of those little things to make sure that we’re cleaning up when we need to make runs, when we need to get back in games, and hopefully, we can correct it for tonight and going forward.”
In the second half, Tufts shot 5–16 from the free throw line, went 12–34 from the field, and got out-rebounded 44–38. The game ended in 92–71 in favor of the Corsairs, who gave the Jumbos their first loss and now boast a 5–0 record.