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Men’s Basketball | Jumbos look to carry momentum into NESCAC tournament

Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 09:02

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Caroline Geiling / The Tufts Daily

 It came down to the last game of the regular season for the men’s basketball team. In fact, it really came down to an hour or so after the Jumbos’ 66-62 win over Bowdoin at home on Saturday.

After the rules had been read and reread, the Jumbos’ celebrated as they heard confirmation they will be the No. 7 seed in the 2014 NESCAC Championship Tournament this weekend.

Despite the dramatic manner in which Tufts closed the regular season and slipped into the playoffs, the real work is yet to be done. Tufts will face Williams, the conference’s second-ranked team and the No. 9 team in the country, in Williamstown on Saturday. 

The Ephs defeated the Jumbos less than two weeks ago when the teams played on Feb. 8. After the first 15 minutes of the game, the score knotted at 23 points apiece, Williams went on a 21-2 run in the last 5:33 of the first half to all but kill Tufts’ chances for an upset.

“We were in the game for most of the first half, and they went on one big run at the end of the first half, and that sort of put the game away,” senior tri-captain Kwame Firempong said. “Not scoring on offense and mistakes on defense lead to a big run for the other team, that sort of put the game away right then and there. They didn’t dominate the game as a whole, it was more of a big run and they were able to sustain that lead through the rest of the game.”

Tufts will have to avoid a similar extended lapse if it wants to take down Williams -- a team hungry for a championship after losing to Amherst by just one point in last year’s final. Coming off two wins against playoff contenders Bowdoin and Colby, Tufts is up for the challenge.

“These two wins this past weekend have given us a lot of momentum and confidence going into this Saturday,” sophomore Stephen Haladyna said. “We’re going into the game confident we can beat them, even though they kind of took it to us last time we played them. So we’re just going to come in with a new game plan, we’ll have more confidence going into this matchup.”

Haladyna led the way for the Jumbos in the back-to-back home matchups last weekend. He was named NESCAC Player of the Week in men’s basketball for his 19 points per game average, 68.8 percent shooting from the field and 66.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc across the two games. He also matched his career-high of 23 points in the contest against Bowdoin.

One player noticeably missing from Saturday’s game was junior Ben Ferris, the Jumbos’ fourth-leading scorer. Ferris, who has been battling injuries all season, was once again sidelined -- this time with a knee injury. Teammates have said he is practicing and will hopefully be healed to play Saturday after the week to prepare.

Depending on the result of Saturday’s game, four Jumbo seniors -- tri-captains Firempong, Oliver Cohen and Andrew Dowton, and Tommy Folliard -- may play their last game in the brown and blue this weekend. For a team that has faced adversity on and off the court this season, they said they have played every game as if it were the last.

“We’ve had so many injuries this year that have brought light to a bigger perspective on life as far as any time you get on the floor it could be your last game,” Firempong said. “So that’s our mentality, it’s a do-or-die situation. Regardless of it’s the playoffs or the regular season, I always have that mentality.” 

While the Jumbos may not have had the easiest road to the postseason, they are looking forward to making the most of their opportunity.

“At the beginning of the year, our goal was to finish at the top of the NESCAC, and then we weren’t able to get a home playoff bid for the first round,” Firempong said. “We didn’t reach some of the expectations that we had, but we still have a great opportunity in front of us.”

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