Fight from men’s basketball on display against Clark and Suffolk

Tufts men's basketball players are pictured in their 2021 season opener against University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Courtesy Jared Marshall
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Throughout the season so far, one fact about the Jumbos is that they do not shy away from a challenge. Whether that means going all in to win the New England Big Four Challenge, having a tight game for much of the event against No. 3 Saint Joseph (Conn.) or taking on historic Division I rival Harvard while holding them to a tight match in the first half, the team has continuously proven its ability to battle through obstacles.

In Wednesday’s matchup at Clark and Saturday’s home game against Suffolk, the squad overcame another set of challenges, claiming a 97–90 overtime victory and a 90–82 win, respectively. But while these games were handled with comfortable enough margins, it is indisputable that these were not ‘easy wins’ for Tufts.

In the contest against then-undefeated Clark, the team was up 80–74 with 49 seconds remaining. However, Clark’s guard Isiah Taylor came up with some late game theatrics, scoring six in 12 seconds that also included Jumbos’ senior guard Theo Henry converting a foul shot, which collectively made the game 81–80. Then, after Taylor was fouled with four seconds remaining, he hit one of two foul shots to send the game to overtime. Senior guard Dylan Thoerner analyzed the end of the second half.

“They’re a good team. They’re a good shooting team, as well,” Thoerner said. “They play pretty fast and aren’t afraid to shoot any shot that they think is a good shot, so that puts a lot of pressure on us. … We did have a couple of defensive breakdowns and some untimely fouls that they capitalized on.”

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In the end, though, the Jumbos came through in overtime, putting up 16 to the Cougars’ nine. As a result, the squad would take the win behind 28 points from Thoerner.

In Saturday’s contest, the Suffolk team performed similarly to Clark. When the Jumbos would get out to a lead, it refused to disappear. 

Nonetheless, in the first half, after which the Jumbos were up 42–29, this was not particularly evident. Along with Thoerner’s strong performance, the Jumbos’ first half was led by their big man duo of sophomore forwards Trumann Gettings and Bobby Stewart.

But in the second half, it was clear that the Rams had not quit as their lights-out three-point shooting — marked by an overall percentage of 56.5 and a total of 13 made — became a problem along with their adjusted defense.

 Thoerner mentioned how with their preparation led by Head Coach Brandon Linton, the Jumbos kept playing their game despite confusing defensive schemes.

“What happened with them was [that] in the second half, they started mixing in zone, and then that threw us off. And then there were times when they went to man and zone back and forth throughout the rest of the second half. … So we had plays set, we had ideas of, ‘if they do go zone, what [we were] going to do?’ So I think having a good game plan also helped because we were prepared for it,” Thoerner said.

Despite this strong game plan offensively, the squad needed to perform defensively, as well.

 Thoerner discussed how they were able to act against the Rams’ strong offensive showing.

“One of the adjustments we made was to switch on handoffs more because they were getting a lot of middle drives on us and getting into the paint and breaking us down that way,” he said. “I think that helped a lot because [when we did that] they had less room to operate, and we cut down on them [and] their open threes to at least make it somewhat more difficult for them — even if they did have a hot night.”

With an impressive combination of this game plan and the team’s depth on display, they were able to overcome Suffolk’s second-half run. This incredible depth included sophomore guard Khai Champion who led the team with 17 points on the night, several of which were timely buckets in the clutch. Henry also had 12 points from off the bench to help carry the team to victory.

 This depth did not merely exhibit itself on the offensive side of the court but showed up defensively, too. The squad had an abundance of immense stops when needed and the team recorded eight steals on the night, with three from Champion and two from Henry. In addition, the vital stops included charges taken for the team, which only further indicated the grit.

Ultimately, with the squad’s preparation, depth and unmatched grit, they claimed these two victories among others throughout their 8–2 season. As the Jumbos take a break until Dec. 29 with a game against Yeshiva University, it will be essential for them to rest up because when they return, the energy will be there. This energy and the characteristics the squad has demonstrated so far will allow the Jumbos to succeed not only throughout the rest of the regular season but in the playoffs too.

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