Men's Basketball | Jumbos’ successful season ends without NCAA tournament bid
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 02:03
Winning 17 games. Winning its first playoff game since 2007. Winning games down the stretch. All add up to an impressive season for the men’s basketball team this year, but the sting of an early exit from the conference tournament and no NCAA tournament berth has put a damper on an otherwise successful 2012-2013 season.
“We took good steps to get better this year,” junior guard Oliver Cohen said. “We won one more game this year than last year
[and]it was encouraging.”
Despite a disappointing finish, he said, the season’s successes added up to a hopeful future.
The most difficult test for the Jumbos came early in the season when the team, starting at 3-5, appeared to be crumbling under heightened expectations. The team ended up in the consolation rounds of both the John K. Adams Tip-Off and the Big Four Tournament due to disappointing losses to Washington and Lee and Brandeis, respectively.
Tufts then had to turn around and face then-No. 1 MIT, to whom they lost a close game, and then flew out to St. Louis for the Lopata Classic, where they lost leads to then-No.7 Illinois-Wesleyan and Wilmington (Ohio) College, putting them under .500 for the year.
“The toughest part of the year was probably going to St. Louis,” sophomore guard Ben Ferris said. “We went all the way out there and we let two games slip. We were really questioning ourselves, what we had worked so hard for last season, what kind of team we were going to be, and nobody had any answers.”
But the team was able to find the spark it was missing, thanks to freshman center Tom Palleschi and guard Stephen Haladyna. Palleschi, who entered the starting lineup after the loss to Wilmington on Dec. 1, finished the season averaging 10 points and six rebounds per game en route to winning NESCAC Rookie of the Year, following in the footsteps of teammate Ferris, who took home the award last year.
Meanwhile, Haladyna saw his minutes go up throughout the season as he became the team’s most consistent scoring option off the bench, averaging 10.2 points per game for the Jumbos.
The importance of the contributions from Palleschi and Haladyna became even more pronounced when the team saw starting sophomore guard C.J. Moss go down for the season 17 games into the year when he re-aggravated a hip injury. Later, top scorer Ferris injured his groin for the final month of the season. Although he was still able to play, it was a tough experience for Ferris to be hampered down the stretch of his most successful season as a Jumbo.
Despite these setbacks, the team as a whole continued its push forward, and behind the combination of talented youth and veteran leadership from senior co-captain Scott Anderson, who picked up his second straight Second Team All-NESCAC honor, Tufts managed to go on an incredible 12-4 run to close out the regular season. The final stretch included a 70-69 loss on a buzzer beater to Middlebury, as well as a 74-67 win at Bates, who was vying for the final home playoff spot.
“They were a good team with a hectic environment, and we were down 15 early, but battled back and played our [butts] off,” Ferris said of the Bates game. “We did everything we needed to do to win. We were completely resilient, and everybody was playing together and playing for each other. We went into their gym, in a packed house, and we just got the win.”
Tufts would have closed out its regular season on an 11 game win streak had it not been for a 100-89 loss to Amherst, which included a career-high 35 points from Anderson, who played arguably the best game of his impressive Jumbos career against his biggest rival.
The most highly-anticipated game of the year for the Jumbos, though, was their first-round playoff matchup against Bowdoin, in which Tufts was looking to win its first playoff game in six years.
“[The best game] was definitely the Bowdoin playoff game,” Cohen said. “We were up a little bit, and then they took the lead and made a nice run in the early second half...it got tight, but then we just turned it around pretty quickly and took that game over.”
After the win, Tufts had to go up against Amherst one more time in the semi-finals, with the hopes of upsetting the Lord Jeffs and turning a good season into a great one.But the fairy tale was not meant to be, and despite entering the second half up three, the Jumbos had no answer for a dominant Amherst attack.
Looking back on the year, the team has realized that they can compete with the best of the NESCAC, and to do so they will need to take their game to another level going forward.
“We see ourselves as being in the hunt to be one of the top teams in the NESCAC,” Ferris said. “We kind of found out what it takes, the hard way obviously, to make us more prepared for next year.”