Men's Basketball | Tufts starts conference season 2-2
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 02:01
While most people got a new book or some clothes for Christmas, the men’s basketball team received the opening of its NESCAC season in its stocking. The team had four games over the winter recess, including difficult matchups against national No. 3 Middlebury and national No. 10 Williams, to go along with games against Colby and Bowdoin.
Although most teams would not view two games against top-10 teams as much of a gift, the Jumbos relished their challenge and put up valiant efforts against both the Ephs and the Panthers. But Tufts fell to Williams 83-68 and Middlebury 70-69.
The Middlebury defeat on Jan. 5 was a particularly tough loss for the team to stomach, as the Jumbos actually led the then-No. 2 Panthers for the majority of the game, and entered the second half up 37-30. From there, the Jumbos continued to prove that the first half was no fluke, as they built their lead up to as much as 13, and stayed up by double digits until 10 minutes to go in the game.
From there, the Panthers, who benefited from sophomore forward Hunter Merryman’s eight points in the final 11 minutes, clawed their way back into the game and, after two foul shots from senior guard Nolan Thompson with five minutes to go, had the game tied 61-61.
Finally, a lay-up from senior forward Peter Lynch gave Middlebury the lead for good, 65-63, and the Panthers held on to win, despite a questionable non-call on junior co-captain Kwame Firempong’s missed layup as time expired.
“Middlebury would have been a great win, against the No.2 team in the country,” sophomore guard Ben Ferris said. “But either way, we played very hard in that game and, even though it was disappointing, it set the tone for our next two games and we were able to go up to Maine
[where] we did what we had to do in order to get two wins.”
The first of those wins came on Jan. 11 against a hot Bowdoin team that had won seven straight and, despite falling behind 13-3, the Jumbos remained calm, going into the second half up 40-39, thanks to a late jumper from sophomore guard C.J. Moss.
In the second half against Bowdoin, the Jumbos kept their momentum rolling. After trading baskets with the Polar Bears, Tufts broke away thanks to a 3-pointer from Ferris, who put his team up 62-56. The Jumbos, who have been all too familiar with giving up late leads, kept their foot on the gas pedal and cruised for an easy 82-69 victory.
The win gave Tufts its first conference victory and put the team at an even 7-7 on the year while giving the Jumbos a healthy dose of confidence heading into their game against Colby this past Friday.
“The game against Middlebury proved we could play against anybody,” senior co-captain forward Scott Anderson said. “We went into Maine with a lot of confidence and we knew we could beat Bowdoin, and after we beat Bowdoin, we went into the game against Colby prepared to win.”
However, despite the team’s confidence, it was Colby that came out of the gate firing. The Mules went up 16-9 to open the game, and had Tufts back on its heels for the second game in a row.
“When we went down initially, we weren’t freaking out by any means, but we knew we had to pick it up,” Anderson said.
“We knew we had to just slow down and play our game. We needed to realize what they were doing on defense, and once we did, we could take advantage and come back.”
A barrage of threes, coming from Moss, Ferris, Anderson and freshman Stephen Haladyna, helped sneak Tufts to a 28-24 lead to end the half.
Part of what contributed to the Jumbos’ slow start was Colby’s unusual defensive scheme, in which every time Tufts ran a pick-and-roll, Colby would fall back into a 2-3 zone. The Jumbos were unprepared for the zone, and often were forced into quick shots.
However, Tufts adjusted at halftime, and was prepared to run its set plays in the second half to set up its shooters in the face of the Mules’ zone.
The tweaks paid off, as Tufts opened the second half on a 16-6 run that put them up 44-30.
Twelve second-half points from Haladyna and 11 from Anderson helped keep the Jumbos on top for the entire second half, and although the game ended 70-63, the score was only that close due to Colby going on a 10-0 run in the final two minutes.
With the win, the Jumbos moved above .500 for only the fourth time all year, and evened their conference up at 2-2.
Overall, the team was pleased with the effort and improvement it showed, especially from freshmen Haladyna and Tom Palleschi. Palleschi in particular has taken huge steps, as he combined for 62 points over winter break, including a monster 27-point performance against Middlebury.
However, the Jumbos are still not satisfied with where they are right now, and will need to continue to pile up the wins if they hope to meet their goal of winning the NESCAC title.