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Mens' Basketball | Jumbos drop two NESCAC games as playoff hopes diminish

Published: Monday, February 10, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 07:02

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Caroline Geiling / The Tufts Daily

When the Jumbos’ season began three months ago, their sights were set on the NCAA tournament; making the NESCAC tournament was practically a given. The question was not whether Tufts would make the playoffs but which seed the team would occupy.

Now, Tufts not only has no shot to reach the national tournament, but is on the outside looking in at the NESCAC playoff picture. On Saturday, the Jumbos lost at Hamilton, 71-69, after the Continentals scored the game-winning bucket with 5.7 seconds remaining. On Sunday, they lost at Williams, 93-70. 

With two games left, Tufts is 11-11 overall and 2-6 in-conference games, tying them for ninth place with Conn. College. The top eight teams make the playoffs. 

“It’s completely unacceptable to not make the tournament,” senior tri-captain point guard Oliver Cohen said.

This Friday and Saturday they will host Colby (12-9 overall, 3-5 NESCAC) and Bowdoin (18-2 overall, 5-2 NESCAC), respectively. If they beat Colby and lose to Bowdoin, they will need Conn. College to lose at least one of its last two games — one of which is against second-place Williams — and will also need Colby to lose its final game against last-place Bates. 

If they win both, they will make the playoffs.

“The mindset, I would say, is that the playoffs start for us this Friday, single elimination,” Cohen said. 

Over the past three seasons, Tufts has won 17, 16 and 13 games, respectively, reaching the NESCAC playoffs all three times. Now, the team is stuck on 11 wins and fighting for its playoff life.

“We’re down, but we’re not out,” senior tri-captain guard Kwame Firempong said. “We have two games left, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we get both wins.”

In Williamstown on Saturday, the game slipped away from Tufts late in the first half. 

With the score tied at 23 with five minutes left, Ephs freshman forward Duncan Robinson converted a four-point play that sparked a 21-2 Williams run. At halftime, the Ephs led 44-25.

The Jumbos’ offense picked up in the second half, but the defense did not slow the Ephs’ lethal attack. 

Williams shot 53 percent for the game and 43 percent on 3-pointers, while Tufts shot only 35 percent overall and 28 percent the 3-point line. The Ephs also dominated in the paint, 52-22.

Robinson finished with a game-high 25 points to go with 10 rebounds and six assists, and Williams senior tri-captain center Michael Mayer added 23 points and 10 boards. 

For Tufts, Firempong scored 23 points and sophomore guard Stephen Haladyna had 20.

During the final 25 minutes, the Jumbos looked overmatched.

“They ran us out of the gym,” Cohen said. “We were bad defensively and they were just the better team, to be honest.”

But the game Tufts really needed was Friday’s contest in Clinton, New York. Both Tufts and Hamilton entered at 2-4 in the NESCAC. The winner would gain the inside track to the postseason.

“We had an opportunity this past weekend to make it an easier run into the playoffs,” Cohen said. “But we didn’t capitalize.”

Tufts trailed 30-18 with 6:10 to go in the first half before rattling off a 13-0 run, leaving Hamilton with a slim 34-33 advantage heading into the half.

The teams traded leads for the much of the second half until an 8-0 Hamilton spurt gave the Continentals a 61-52 edge with six minutes remaining. 

Refusing to quit, Tufts shot lights-out for the remaining minutes of the game to stay alive. Junior guard Ben Ferris nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Jumbos a 66-65 lead with 1:16 to play.

After two layups for Hamilton, freshman guard Tarik Smith hit another three to tie it at 69 at the 23-second mark.

With 14 seconds left, the Continentals called timeout. They inbounded to senior guard Greg Newton, who drove in for a layup with 5.7 seconds on the clock.

Tufts was unable to get a shot off in the final seconds, and Hamilton walked away with a 71-69 victory.

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