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Men's Basketball | Jumbos extend win streak to four, climb in the NESCAC

Published: Monday, January 21, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 00:01

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Oliver Porter / The Tufts Daily

Freshman Stephen Haladnya scored 21 points in 23 minutes for the Jumbos as they held off Wesleyan, 77-75.

After starting its NESCAC campaign with back−to−back losses, the men’s basketball team dropped to the bottom of the conference standings. Fast−forward two weeks, and the team has reeled off four straight wins including its two victories on the weekend, a 77−75 nailbiter over Wesleyan and a 73−56 battering of Conn. College.

The Jumbos showed up ready to play against the Cardinals. The heartbreaking memory of a 2012 one−point loss to Wesleyan, decided by then−junior Shasha Brown’s end−to−end bucket with just 5.1 seconds to play, still stung as the Jumbos hit the court on Friday evening.

“Last year they came in third place, and we came in fourth, so we knew they were a team that we needed to beat,” senior co−captain forward Scott Anderson said. “We also lost to them by one last year, and having that in mind, we knew we needed to come out with a hot start.”

However, starting fast has not been the Jumbos’ strong suit this year. In its two previous games, Tufts has gone down 15−8 and 14−5 against Bowdoin and Colby, respectively, before coming back to win.

Against Wesleyan, however, the tables were turned. Early 3−pointers from junior guard Oliver Cohen and freshman guard Stephen Haladyna helped take Tufts to a quick 22−14 lead.

The Jumbos continued to grow their lead throughout the first half, and with just over three minutes to go, Tufts led 35−20, showing no sign of slowing down until an 8−4 Wesleyan run to end the half closed the gap to 39−28.

Much of Tufts’ early lead was due to Haladyna, who scored 11 of his team−high 21 points in the first half, and sophomore guard Ben Ferris, who also chipped in 10 of his 20 in the first stanza. “The last couple weekends, we came out a little flat, but this weekend we really came out with a lot of energy,” Haladyna said.

Tufts worked to maintain its lead in the second half, but 19 second−half points from the Cardinals’ senior guard Derick Beresford and 14 from Brown rattled the Jumbos, as Wesleyan pulled to within three with under 10 minutes to go.

“We knew Wesleyan really only has three scorers, Beresford, Brown, and [Mike] Callaghan,” Anderson said. “In the first half we did a really good job of shutting those three guys down, and the coaches really harped on that. But at the same time, we knew those guys weren’t going to do nothing in the first half, and then do nothing in the second either.”

However, the Jumbos were desperate for a signature win. They came right back with a four−minute, 10−point unanswered run to put them back up by double digits, 69−56, with five minutes to play.

But Beresford and Brown refused to go away. The resilient duo teamed up for Wesleyan’s final 19 points, including two 3−pointers from Beresford, who finished with a game−high 26 points.

“Beresford was really feeling it all game,” Anderson said. “It wasn’t us playing bad defense on him, it was just the kid having an unbelievable game, and hitting threes with hands in his face.”

In the final minutes, Ferris was forced to leave the court with a bloody nose, and the Jumbos’ star guard sat helplessly on the bench as he watched Tufts’ once−solid lead disintegrate.

With 10 seconds to go, a Beresford three brought Wesleyan within two of the Jumbos, at 76−74. The Cardinals quickly fouled in order to try to put the team in a position to win or tie with the last possession, but Tufts managed to put the ball in the hands of its best free−throw shooter, Cohen. The junior went one−for−two from the line, giving Tufts a three−point lead and the Cardinals a chance with last possession.

Instead of allowing the Cardinals a 3−point attempt, head coach Bob Sheldon conservatively elected to foul Brown. With the game in Brown’s hands once again, the Cardinals hit the first shot but intentionally missed the second, only to have the rebound bounce out of bounds off of Tufts’ Anderson with just three seconds to go.

A last−second effort from Wesleyan’s Glen Thomas fell short, however, and Tufts snuck off the court with a narrow 77−75 win, bringing the Jumbos above .500 in the NESCAC for the first time this season.

The team could not celebrate for long, as it turned around on Saturday to take on Conn. College. Facing the Camels wasn’t quite as daunting as it could have been for a drained Jumbos squad, with the Camels still winless in the NESCAC. They did not boost their record in Cousens Gym.

While Tufts’ main focus was securing a win, the Jumbos also helped Anderson to a very important individual mark. It did not take long for the co−captain, who entered Saturday’s game with 999 points, to become the 27th member of the 1,000−point club.

Less than one minute into the game, Cohen found Anderson open behind the arc, and Anderson buried a three to put Tufts up 3−0 and give him a place among the Jumbos’ greats.

“I knew going into the season I was close to 1,000, but I had no idea how close,” Anderson said. “But going into Wesleyan, I knew I needed 12, and it was hanging over my head a little bit, and then I got 11. Going into the Conn. College game, I didn’t really want to think about it, and just get it out of the way, and then I hit that three, and it lifted a weight a little bit.”

The accomplishment did not signal the end of the game for Anderson, or for Tufts. The Jumbos went up quickly and never looked back. Led by an 18−point performance from Anderson, 14 from Haladyna and 12 from Ferris, Tufts cruised to a 73−56 layup against one of the conference’s weakest squads.

This week, Tufts will enjoy one more game at home with a Thursday−evening matchup against UMass Boston before heading north to Maine to take on Bates. The Jumbos will try to keep the winning streak alive as they continue to challenge for a top spot in the NESCAC.

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