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Men’s Basketball | Too little, too late for Tufts in Worcester

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 09:12

basketball

Anamaria Murphy for the Tufts Daily

The Jumbos entered their matchup Tuesday against the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) Engineers averaging over 88 points per game. When they left Worcester, they had scored a season-low 67 points, losing by three and falling to 5-2 overall. The Engineers, who were ranked No. 14 in the latest D3hoops.com Top 25, extended their home winning streak to 20.

Tufts received three votes in the latest D3hoops poll and put up a good fight against WPI, missing a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime. The Jumbos know that to crack the Top 25 and ultimately make a case for an NCAA bid, they need to do better against top-notch competition.

“Our goal has been and always will be to get to the NCAA tournament,” senior tri-captain point guard Oliver Cohen said. “Winning a game like [WPI] looks great for your resume at the end of the season. … The hole we dug for ourselves was just a little bit too deep.”

The Engineers used a 12-0 run over the final two minutes of the first half and the first two minutes of the second half to increase their lead to 39-26. For the rest of the game, the Jumbos — who scored just 26 points in the first 20 minutes — were playing catch-up.  

With four minutes remaining, freshman forward Drew Madsen hit a jump shot to pull the Jumbos within seven, 61-54. But the Engineers hit 5-of-6 free throws in the next two minutes and led 66-59 with 2:06 to go. The Jumbos did not attempt another shot until the 46-second mark, when freshman guard Tarik Smith hit a layup to make it 66-61. 

After the Engineers made a free throw, sophomore guard Ryan Spadaford knocked down a three-pointer with 17 seconds left to pull within three, 67-64. Then, after Engineers sophomore guard Zach Karalis hit a pair of free throws, senior tri-captain guard Kwame Firempong nailed another three-pointer. 

“Our guards started getting into the paint and getting kickouts, and we started knocking down a lot of shots from the outside,” Spadaford said. 

The score was WPI 69, Tufts 67 when Firempong fouled junior guard Matt Harrington with seven seconds remaining. Harrington made the first and missed the second, and Spadaford grabbed the rebound with Tufts trailing 70-67. 

“We kept fighting, we kept believing we had a shot to win,” Cohen said. “We had some great contributions from Tarik Smith and Ryan Spadaford.”

Spadaford gave the ball to Firempong, who attempted to launch a three as time expired. But WPI junior forward Domenick Mastascusa got a hand on it. The shot fell short and the Jumbos lost, 70-67. 

“Towards the last minute, we were fouling the right guys, they were missing some free throws and we just kept chipping away,” Spadaford said. “I just think it was too late to make that run, which is why we came up short.”

Tufts lost despite boasting the game’s two leading scorers in Spadaford (19 points) and Smith (15 points). Spadaford was particularly efficient, making 8-of-13 shots. 

Freshman center Hunter Sabety and senior tri-captain forward Tommy Folliard — who entered the game second and third on the team in scoring, respectively — struggled against the Engineers. Sabety scored just four points on two shots in 18 minutes, while Folliard went 0-for-5 from the field.

Throughout the evening, the Engineers’ defense gave the Jumbos fits.

“They kind of dictated the game, especially with their defense,” Cohen said. “They had us well-scouted, clearly, and they took us out of some of the stuff we’re used to running on offense.”

The Jumbos’ offense, which thrives at an up-tempo pace, failed to find a rhythm.

“They definitely slowed down our offense,” Spadaford said. “We couldn’t really get into our sets. We were trying to push the pace and trying to have them play our tempo, but they’re more of a relaxed team. That’s probably why we lost, because we couldn’t really [control] that.”

Despite their offensive woes, the Jumbos did have an impressive defensive showing: The Engineers had not scored 70 points or fewer in a game they won since Feb. 23, 2012. 

This weekend, the Jumbos continue their non-conference schedule with one game  Saturday and one game Sunday in the New England Big 4 Challenge. Then on Dec. 10 they host Plymouth State, their last opponent before a 25-day hiatus.

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