Men's Basketball | Jumbos fall short against Amherst in semi-finals
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 08:02
The men’s basketball team this weekend proved once again that they are able to compete with the top teams in Div. III. But the Jumbos have yet to prove they can beat those top teams, losing 80-64 on Saturday night to Amherst in the conference semi-finals, despite 19 points from freshman center Tom Palleschi and 18 from sophomore guard Ben Ferris.
The Jumbos started off the game well, which was no surprise for a team that came into the matchup having won 11 of their last 12 contests. Junior co-captain Kwame Firempong pushed Tufts out to a quick 8-2 lead, hitting two of three 3-pointers within the first three minutes.
“We were very confident going into the game,” Firempong said in an email to the Daily. “In our regular season game against them, the game was back-and-forth throughout and we were within a possession of tying the game in the last three minutes. So we knew if we could make adjustments defensively we could turn the tide in our favor.”
But Amherst, which boasts the seventh-highest scoring offense in the country at 84.4 points per game, could not be held off for long. The Lord Jeffs came back to tie up the game at 11, and the first half went back and forth from there with six ties and neither team able to take more than a four-point lead.
The Jumbos were able to gain the upper hand going into the locker room, thanks to a 7-2 run to end the half that gave them a 35-32 advantage.
“In the first half, we really locked in defensively,” Firempong said. “We started the game with a lot of energy and focus and limited their open looks on offense.”
The Jumbos were particularly impressive in their ability to limit junior guard Aaron Toomey to two points in the first half. Toomey, who is 3rd in the NESCAC with 17.3 points per game, put up 27 points against Tufts the first time the two teams met. This time around, the Jumbos made it their number one priority to stop him.
“We really focused in our adjustments that we made to make it tough on him getting easy looks and limit his comfort level on offense,” Firempong said. “Our pick [and] roll defense was very solid and I thought our [big men] did a great job limiting his ability to penetrate off of ball screens.”
In the second half, the Jumbos that had built up a lead just minutes earlier were nowhere to be found. The Lord Jeffs came out of the locker room with high energy and controlled the tempo for the rest of the game.
The Lord Jeffs pulled ahead 38-37 on a Toomey jumper less than three minutes into the half. From that point on, Tufts was playing catch-up to Amherst’s overpowering offensive attack.
The Jumbos were able to hang around until the 13-minute mark, when the Lord Jeffs went on a 12-to-1 run in only four minutes to put coach David Dixon’s squad up 12, 59-47. Their scoring punch came from senior center Peter Kaasila, who scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in a dominant second half.
Although the Jumbos limited Toomey to only five points in the second, Amherst flashed their depth Saturday afternoon with all four of the other starters scoring in double figures.
“They’re just so deep, and they have so much talent on their team,” Anderson said. “A lot of times they rely on Toomey, but if ever he’s having a bad game, it’s just
[somebody else’s] turn to score. It’s tough because you need to focus on that one guy who’s really their best player, but they just have so many other weapons too.”
For the remainder of the game, Jumbos could only close the gap with Amherst to nine points, and the Lord Jeffs held on to a double-digit lead for the last seven minutes.
“There wasn’t one thing on defense that could be pointed to as the sole problem,” Firempong said. “But I think they did hurt us on second-chance opportunities in the second half when we really struggled on offense.”
Tufts, which has been consistently improving all season, was done in by its own poor shooting and struggles on the defensive end. The Jumbos shot a lowly 26.5 percent from the field in the second half, compared to Amherst, which shot 65.5 percent.
“It was an extremely tough loss,” Firempong said. “We had a lot of confidence that we could win this game and we felt that we had a great week of practice where we really focused on executing the game plan. But unfortunately in sports, there has to be a winner and a loser, and we came out on the wrong end yesterday.”
Rather than competing Sunday in the title game like the Jumbos had hoped, Tufts had to sit the rest of the weekend out and watch Amherst defeat Williams 74-73.
The team is waiting until today to hear about an NCAA tournament berth, which was one of the team’s goals entering the season. For seniors like Anderson, the tournament would also present one last chance to suit up in their sky blue uniforms, and the selection show this afternoon could end their season.
“If the opportunity presents itself for us to get in to the tournament, I think we’re optimistic about our chances of doing well,” Anderson said. “Our fingers are crossed.”