Men's Basketball | Looking for an upset, Jumbos hit the road for NESCAC semifinals
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 22, 2013 09:02
After a come−from−behind win against Bowdoin in the first round of the NESCAC tournament, the men’s basketball team will travel to Amherst this weekend to take on the Lord Jeffs, a team they haven’t beaten in over a decade, in the conference semifinals.
Despite getting off to a slow start in the first half last week, the Jumbos ended their quarterfinal matchup with the Polar Bears on a 21−4 run over the game’s last eight minutes to take the win, 82−71. Sophomore guard Ben Ferris led the charge for Tufts, scoring a career−high 24 points and adding nine rebounds and two assists.
“Bowdoin came in and played really well — they shot the lights out,” junior guard Oliver Cohen, who dished out a career−high 10 assists in the victory, said. “We played decent in the first half, came out kind of flat in the first 10 minutes of the second half and Bowdoin took advantage, hitting so many shots. Once they got up by six, we kind of came together and just said we had to give it everything we had, and we couldn’t wait any longer. We sensed the game starting to get away from us, so I think that’s when we really turned it around and took control and never looked back.”
The Lord Jeffs, who according to d3hoops.com are currently ranked second in the nation, have been dominant in the NESCAC for the past several years. Last season, coach Dave Hixon’s squad advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament before falling to Franklin & Marshall. This season, Amherst sits on a 23−2 overall record, including a perfect 10−0 mark against conference foes.
The team’s key to success thus far has been its high−powered offensive attack that averages 84.4 points per game, the ninth−highest mark in the country. They’re led by 2012 All−NESCAC first−team selection guard Aaron Toomey, arguably the most dynamic guard in the conference.
“The key [against Amherst] is to stop or slow down Toomey, especially in ball screen situations,” Ferris said. “He has the ball in his hands a lot for them, and is their go−to guy in terms of scoring and playmaking. So, if we contain him, we are confident we can slow them down.”
The last time these two teams squared off, on Feb. 2, the two were all tied up at 78 with less than eight minutes to play before Amherst rattled off a 9−0 run down the stretch to defeat the Jumbos, 100−89, in an old−fashioned shootout.
While senior co−captain Scott Anderson put together one of his finest games as a Jumbo, accumulating a career−high 35 points, it wasn’t enough, as the Jumbos failed to come up with enough stops to slow down Amherst’s potent offense.
This time around, Tufts knows it must stay more focused on the defensive side of the ball.
“They’re a great offensive team, as shown by the 100 points they scored on us last time, so we’ve just got to try to find a way to slow them down and get some stops.” Cohen said. “We feel like we can score in a variety of ways but our defense has really been an issue at times so that’s where we need to improve this time around.”
The Jumbos enter Saturday afternoon’s game on an impressive streak themselves, having won 11 of their past 12 games, dating back to early January. Team members credit this winning streak to a change in mindset and attitude throughout the whole team, one that exudes confidences at all times.
“The key to our strong play has been that we are playing for each other,” Ferris said. “We all want the same thing, and we all have adjusted into our roles very well at this point and we’ve been successful with it.
“We just expect to win games now, whereas earlier in the season we were like ‘ok if we play well we will win’ now our mentality is like ‘we are going to win regardless of if we are playing well or not,’” he added. “There’s been a transition in the mindset of our team to the point where we are mature in tough situations and we have a killer mentality.”
With a win on Saturday, the Jumbos would advance to the NESCAC finals for the first time since the 2005−2006 season, when the team also made it all the way to the Sweet 16. As exciting as a trip to the finals might be, the Jumbos are solely focused on Saturday’s matchup, and are making sure not to get ahead of themselves.
“We’ve just been working hard to continue to improve every day in preparation for Saturday,” Cohen said. “All year long our goal has been to win the NESCAC, so we understand the importance of this next game.”