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Men’s Basketball | Jumbos finish fourth at Big 4 Challenge

Published: Monday, December 9, 2013

Updated: Monday, December 9, 2013 09:12

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Caroline Geiling / The Tufts Daily


Tufts lost both its games in the fifth annual New England Big 4 Challenge  at Cousens Gym this past weekend, falling to Salem State on Saturday before losing to Brandeis in the consolation game on Sunday.

Babson went on to beat Salem State 101-87 on Sunday afternoon to capture its first Big 4 title.

The Jumbos finished the weekend with a 5-4 record on the season and a sour taste in their mouths. They led for almost the entire game against Salem State before the Vikings made a late push, and a last-second three-pointer by senior tri-captain guard Kwame Firempong hit the front rim to conclude an 81-78 defeat.

Then, against Brandeis, Tufts again squandered a halftime edge. The Judges pulled away in the final minutes to win 90-82.

It was a frustrating weekend for a team looking to head into the holiday break with some momentum. The players believe they need to increase their level of focus going forward.

“It’s not an energy thing,” senior tri-captain forward Andrew Dowton said. “I think early in the season we had a little trouble with that. We’ve worked that out. It’s more a focus thing now.”

The Jumbos are still working to adjust as they play with an altered lineup due to injuries. Sophomore big-man Tom Palleschi was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta in the preseason and can no longer play basketball; junior guard Ben Ferris, the team’s leading scorer last year, has yet to play this season due to a stress fracture in his hip; sophomore guard Stephen Haladyna has missed the last three games with mononucleosis; and sophomore forward Brian Kilgore, who saw limited playing time, is out with a torn meniscus.

Coach Bob Sheldon said Ferris will be cleared to play Dec. 15 and Haladyna will be cleared on Dec. 20.

“We’ve had the injuries, [so] it’s been a learning process from Nov. 1 on,” Sheldon said. “We’re getting better as a team. We’re gonna play [tomorrow], and then everybody’s healthy for January and we’ll hopefully make a run next semester.”

The injuries have meant big responsibility for some freshmen, including center Hunter Sabety. The 6-foot-8 big man from Oceanside, N.Y. has shown tremendous upside and remains a work in progress.

“We’re throwing a lot at him,” Sheldon said. “He was doing some things [in high school] that he can’t do here. So he’s just got to learn how to play hard all the time. He’s gonna be really good.”

Like every NCAA team, the Jumbos are also adapting to new rules that discourage hand-checking and have resulted in more whistles across the country. On Sunday, Tufts found itself in a bind when Sabety and freshman forward Drew Madsen each had four fouls early in the second half.

“I think it’s definitely a change,” Dowton said. “Everyone’s played the game for however many years being able to ride people a little bit, put your hands on them a little bit. Now, it’s the cliche: Play defense with your feet. Now, you really have to do that and keep your hands off.”

In both games this past weekend, a long-range shooter gave the Jumbos fits. On Saturday, it was Salem State junior guard Bryan Ortiz. On Sunday, in the consolation game, it was Brandeis senior guard Gabriel Moton, a transfer from Boston College.

“It’s a focus thing,” Dowton said. “We had the scouting report on Ortiz, we know he’s a big shot-taker and that he’s gonna look to have the ball in his hands. A lot of those shots were open ones, or ones where we had a guy [there] and just didn’t have a hand [up]. 

“Same thing with Moton,” Dowton continued. “A couple of his threes late were open ones off of swings. It’s not enough to just be there. You’ve got to be up in a guy’s stuff to make sure he’s not getting a good shot.”

Moton shot the lights out against the Jumbos. He had 29 points, including 21 in the second half, and made 7-of-8 three-pointers and 8-of-8 free throws.

The Jumbos entered the locker room against the Judges leading 46-43, but they went cold in the final 20 minutes. After shooting 54.5 percent in the first half, they shot 39.3 percent in the second. The Judges, on the other hand, peaked at the right time. In the first half they shot 36.1 percent; in the second half they shot 61.9 percent and made seven of 10 threes. 

Ultimately, Brandeis increased its lead and won 90-82.

“I think we can score, but we can’t [afford to] give up 90,” Sheldon said. “Part of the big thing is, Ben [Ferris] is a great defender, Tommy Palleschi’s a big talker. We haven’t replaced those two guys yet on defense. We [have to] keep working for that. It’s gonna come.”

Saturday was similarly frustrating for the Jumbos, who jumped out to an 11-2 lead against Salem State and controlled the pace throughout the first half. At halftime their advantage was 47-36, with senior forward Tommy Folliard hitting 5-of-7 first-half shots for 12 points and sophomore guard Ryan Spadaford converting 6-of-7 first-half free throws for 11 points.

But the Vikings refused to fade away in the second half. The Jumbos’ lead hovered around five points until the 10-minute mark, when Ortiz hit a pair of threes and teammate junior Jon Perez hit a third. With 8:51 remaining, the Vikings took their first lead of the game, 65-64.

For every shot Tufts hit, Ortiz had an answer. With his team trailing 76-70, Ortiz nailed back-to-back three-pointers to tie it with 3:40 to go.

Neither team made a field goal for the remainder of the game. With under a minute to play, Perez hit a pair of free throws to give the Vikings an 80-77 edge, and then, down 80-78 at the 14-second mark, the Jumbos called timeout.

Freshman guard Tarik Smith ran a pick-and-roll with Sabety, who streaked toward the basket. Smith lobbed an alley-oop in Sabety’s direction, but Sabety was well-guarded and the Vikings came down with the ball. Firempong was forced to foul Vikings senior Robert Morin with three seconds left.

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