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Men’s Basketball | Jumbos handle Corsairs, prepare for final stretch

Published: Friday, February 7, 2014

Updated: Friday, February 7, 2014 08:02

The men’s basketball team matched up Tuesday night with non-conference opponent UMass-Dartmouth, routing the Corsairs 73-54 to bring Tufts its third win in four games. The team improved to 11-9 overall with the victory.

Noticeably missing on both ends of the floor for the Jumbos was their leading scorer, freshman center Hunter Sabety, who was sidelined with an illness. Senior forward Tommy Folliard also did not play, as he was recovering from a foot injury, according to head coach Bob Sheldon.

Luckily the Jumbos did not face any serious size disadvantage as 6’7” freshman big man Drew Madsen and 6’5” senior tri-captain Andrew Dowton stepped up to handle the responsibility in the paint.

“Obviously [Hunter is] a big defensive presence, blocking shots and anchoring our defense,” said Dowton, who started in place of Sabety. “So it’s a big thing, and we have other guys who are gonna play that spot, who are gonna block those shots, just being ready to take charges and being in the position to play defense. Rotating in behind and being that second help, helping the helpers like coach [Sheldon] always says.”

But for the final minutes before the end of the first half, the Jumbos had their way at both ends of the court. They came out 9-0 to start the game before UMass-Dartmouth scored at the 16:30 mark. After junior guard Ben Ferris converted a layup on a fast-break pass from freshman Tarik Smith less than seven minutes into the game, the Corsairs called a timeout as the Jumbos’ lead had grown to 13.

Slowly UMass-Dartmouth crawled back into striking distance, as Tufts struggled to make anything happen on the offensive end. Over just 10 minutes, the Corsairs mounted a 17-7 run to pull themselves within four points of the hosts.

Freshman guard Ryan Walsh knocked down seven straight points to start the Corsairs’ streak. The Jumbos, on the other hand, missed five layups, four free throws and commited four turnovers over the same span. They also gave up eight offensive rebounds from the 13:08 mark until halftime. This lapse did not prove devastating for the Jumbos in the end, but it is something the team must be wary of, especially with Sabety on the sideline.

“When we’re struggling we just gotta continue to get [touches in the paint] from our guards,” Ferris said. “It was tough tonight because we didn’t have Hunter and usually we can just throw the ball into him and get a basket. I feel like we’re doing a lot better job playing together. We’re struggling when we’re not getting paint touches and we’re taking contested shots without getting into the paint and getting kick-outs.”

UMass-Dartmouth again cut Tufts’ lead to just four points twice more before the end of the half, but a 3-pointer from Ferris and a pair of free throws from sophomore guard Stephen Haladyna put the Jumbos up 39-30 going into the break.

Coming out in the second half, Tufts was recharged and emerged with no signs of fatigue. After just three-and-a-half minutes, the Jumbos had sprung out to a 17-point lead, capped by an and-one put-back layup from Madsen. A 3-pointer from Ferris followed by another make from beyond the arc by senior tri-captain Kwame Firempong a minute-and-a-half later put the Jumbos up 59-42 at the 10:17 mark. Tufts’ lead would not slip to less than 17 points for the remainder of the game.

“We switched everything because we didn’t have a big guy,” Sheldon said. “I think it threw them off a little bit. I think our defense was great. I think the good thing about it was that we didn’t need anyone to be a hero. They stayed within themselves and played like a team.”

Ferris led the way for the Jumbos statistically, posting a double-double with 18 points including four 3-pointers and 12 rebounds. Firempong had 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals, while Haladyna added 12 points and three rebounds.

Off the bench, the Jumbos saw contributions from sophomore guard Ryan Spadaford, who hit two big shots from beyond the arc, Smith, who added seven points and Madsen, who had six points and four rebounds.

Walsh led the Corsairs with 14 points, while sophomore big man Wale Abraham pulled in a game-high 13 rebounds.

While the win was certainly a confidence boost and allowed the Jumbos to showcase their talent without Sabety on the floor, it is nowhere near as meaningful as the next four games will be. The Jumbos will travel to Hamilton and then Williams on Friday and Saturday, have a week of rest and then play against Colby and Bowdoin at Cousens Gymnasium on Feb. 14 and 15.

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