Coming off of a three-game win streak that culminated with a dominant 37-point victory over Colby-Sawyer, Tufts entered the weekend with confidence but awareness of the challenges ahead. A win in Friday’s away game at Wesleyan would’ve guaranteed the Jumbos a home game in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs and likely a more favorable matchup — if such a thing exists in the tough, hard-fought conference. Meanwhile, Saturday’s matchup against Trinity held the potential to serve as a momentum builder going into the postseason as well as an opportunity to secure the best seed possible in the NESCAC tournament.
Immediately from the tipoff of the Wesleyan game, the team brought the intensity, battling through a back-and-forth first half that would eventually end with the Cardinals up 9. As the second half began, the squad refused to go away, cutting the lead to 1 point on multiple occasions, including senior guard Carson Cohen’s and-1 free throw with about 10 minutes left in the second half and senior guard Dylan Thoerner’s 3-point conversion with 14 seconds remaining. Thoerner was an unstoppable force all night, recording a career-high 33 points off an outstanding 12 for 13 from the field and 8 for 9 from beyond the arc.
While the Cardinals’ poor free-throw shooting down the stretch kept the Jumbos alive, it was the squad’s lack of late-game awareness, featuring a technical foul resulting from a timeout called when the team had none left, that kept them from coming away with the victory. By the end of the game, the Jumbos had lost 85–82. Although these late-game mistakes are painful in the short term, as first-year forward Scott Gyimesi — who had an impressive all-around performance with 10 points, five rebounds, five assists, and three steals — mentioned, it is good to get those mistakes over with now.
“Obviously, those are mistakes that happened, and we [have] to live with that, but it’ll only help us learn. Thankfully, that didn’t happen in the playoffs, so if anything, it may help us out in the future in terms of learning from that experience,” Gyimesi said.
As the squad traveled within Connecticut from Middletown to Hartford, its will to win was evident with its utter domination of Trinity from start to finish. Throughout the first half, the Jumbos shot the ball well, allowing them to get out to a 40–20 lead over the Bantams at the half. In the second half, the squad continued to control the game, finishing the day with a 74–59 victory. While the team had contributions deep into its lineup, senior guard Tyler Aronson led with 14 points, and Gyimesi provided strong support with a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“We came out really aggressive. We were very physical, and I think that the energy just sort of spread throughout the entire team. Once we got a lead, we all knew we weren’t going to lose that game; there was no doubt in our minds that we were going to win,” Gyimesi said.
After battling an ankle injury early in the year, Gyimesi has fought hard to earn his playing time, indubitably becoming a key player for the Jumbos as of late. Gyimesi humbly explained his recent contributions as another indication of this team’s depth.
“Like our captain says that every time, we’re 17 deep, and we have a very deep rotation,” Gymesi said. “I think anyone on any given night is looking to step up, so I’m sort of just contributing to what the rest of the team has been doing all season.”
It is well accepted that in college basketball, the deepest teams tend to succeed in the playoffs, and the squad will need to capitalize on this as it matches up against one of the best teams in the country. The Tufts Jumbos take on the national No. 12 and NESCAC No. 4 Middlebury Panthers on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 4:30 p.m. in Middlebury, Vt. The squad fights for its season in a game that is not merely a NESCAC playoff game but likely a game with an NCAA at-large bid on the line. Nonetheless, if the Jumbos come out as aggressive as they did in performances like the Trinity game, they will certainly have a shot at walking away with the victory.
“I think it’s just the same mentality we’ve had all season: to go into a game being aggressive, being physical and getting to our shots and running our stuff the best way we know how,” Gymesi said. “Obviously, we’ll be preparing scout-wise, running through their plays and stuff, but it’s just about preparation. And if we prepare correctly, I think it gives us a very good opportunity to hopefully come out with a win.”
The squad has proven time and time again this season that it can compete with anyone in the nation when on its game. If everyone is focused and ready to play on Saturday, then they will put up a fight and will have a good shot at coming away triumphantly. The question is: Which Jumbos team will show up?
“I think everyone’s ready,” Gymesi said. “No one wants to go out; no one wants the season to end. Up to this point, this is the largest game of the season, so yeah, I think everyone is hyped up for it — a lot of energy.”
Only time will tell.