The men's basketball now knows what it's like to go in for a routine physical and have the doctor order emergency triple bypass surgery. The Jumbos went into the weekend expecting favorable results from a checkup against two NESCAC foes, the Williams Ephs and Middlebury Panthers. But after consecutive losses to the Ephs (86-64) on Friday and to the Panthers (76-71) on Saturday, Tufts (15-7, 3-4 in NESCAC) finds itself on life support with only one week remaining in the regular season.
While Tufts usually prides itself on effort, senior co-captain Dan Flaherty questioned the team's heart following the losses.
"We need to be more intense in the game," Flaherty said. "We are sometimes lackadaisical as a team, and we think we can win on talent alone."
While the Jumbos shot better than the Panthers - they connected on 47.4 percent of their field goal attempts compared to Middlebury's 41.5 percent - Tufts once again failed to excel at the fundamentals. The Panthers out-rebounded the Jumbos 36-30 and also dominated them at the charity stripe, where Tufts continued to struggle, shooting only 50 percent from the line compared to Middlebury's 71.4 percent.
"There might have been two or three minutes where we had the lead," Flaherty said. "They made a lot of their free throws. They just got them really well and we didn't. That was a big discrepancy."
"In terms of free throws, we were fouling back and forth, and we weren't hitting our free throws but they were hitting theirs," junior guard Bobby MacMannis said. "That was one of the main reasons we lost. We have kind of hit a [free throw] funk now."
While his teammates struggled, Flaherty had a huge game, going 12-13 from the field, 5-7 from the line, and finishing with a season-high 30 points. Sophomore shooting guard Brian Shapiro was the only other Jumbo in double figures, as he chipped in 12 points on 5-13 shooting. Senior co-captain Bobby Mpuku and freshman Phil Barlow, who only played 20 minutes, both contributed eight points.
Tufts was dealt a tremendous blow when Barlow fouled out with approximately eight minutes left in the second half. With the Barlow-bomb on the bench, the Jumbos were unable to find another spark to ignite them down the stretch.
"That hurt us," Flaherty said of Barlow's premature departure. "He is a good player, especially on defense, he is so quick. There were a couple of bogus [foul] calls."
"When he fouled out, we lost the edge," MacMannis said. "We actually played well. It seemed like as soon as the game was over we were like 'how did we lose that game?'"
The loss to the Panthers was especially devastating for the Jumbos, who had hoped to dig themselves from an abyss after a startling setback against Williams on Friday. Going into the game Tufts had a 3-2 NESCAC record while the Ephs were 3-3. But following this weekend's action, the two teams have undergone a drastic reversal in fortunes.
The Ephs jumped out in front early, sprinting to a 23-11 lead eight minutes into the game. Following that spurt, the Jumbos found themselves struggling to make the contest competitive. Midway through the first half, Tufts went on a run of its own, cut the Ephs lead to five, and headed into the locker room down by only seven.
After shooting a poor 38.7 percent through the first 20 minutes, the Jumbos looked to improve that statistic in the second half. Instead, the second half was more of the same for Tufts as the squad shot only 33.3 percent in the second frame. Rebounding was also a serious problem for the Jumbos as the Ephmen out-rebounded them by a 50 to 37 margin.
"They were a lot more physical then we thought they were gonna be," MacMannis said. "We kind of backed off as soon as we saw how physical they were."
"They contest every shot," Flaherty said. "I don't think we got any open looks. They got in our face and pushed us back. They pushed us back at the three-point line. It was kind of a disappointing loss."
While the team struggled as a whole, Flaherty (7-10 for 19 points and six rebounds) and freshman point guard Phil Barlow (6-8 for 16 points) managed to thrive.
"I played an alright game," Flaherty said. "They might not have stopped me per se, but they made it difficult. I had to really press to get open for shots. It wasn't easy for the guards to get into the posts. There were a couple turnovers trying to get [the ball] into me, or I got stripped."
After the two NESCAC losses, the Jumbos are now in a three-way tie with Bowdoin and Conn. College for the sixth spot in the playoff battle, making next weekend's showdowns at Wesleyan and Conn. College must-win games.
"We want to come out and hopefully get two victories," Flaherty said. "We just want to get into that [NESCAC] tournament. We feel like as long as we are there, we are a dangerous team."
"There is a real sense of urgency," MacMannis said. "We started the season off so well. Now, our backs are against the wall. We have to go in and probably win both games this weekend."