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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Men's basketball kicks off NESCAC season with big win at Bates

The men's basketball team began the NESCAC schedule on a high, with a 78-65 drubbing of the Bates Bobcats on Saturday afternoon. The victory improved the Jumbos' record to 12-2 on the season, and set the tone for what should be a tight battle for the NESCAC Championship and automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

"I think it was definitely a great way to start off league play," sophomore Brian Shapiro said. "With Williams, Connecticut College, and Amherst losing, it shows that the [NESCAC] is up in the air and each victory is that much more important. It's going to be a dogfight all year in the NESCAC, and to get a quality win on the road was very important for us."

For the season, the trio of Shapiro and seniors Dan Flaherty and Fred Pedroletti have been doing the brunt of the scoring for Tufts. However, against Bates, the Jumbos had seven players score seven or more points.

"The trio has been our top scorers, but we have other people score also," coach Bob Sheldon said. "We are a deep team, especially on offense, and any one of several players could go for 20 on any given night. That's what makes us so tough to beat."

Tufts inside-out game led to many scoring opportunities down low for Flaherty, (8-16, 20 points) and Pedroletti (4-8, 10 points).

"Bates wasn't that big of a team, and [Flaherty] was able to set up shop in the paint really easily," Shapiro said. "Once we got the ball into him they had a really difficult time of stopping him. He also uses his size really well and gets tons of rebounds."

Guards Shapiro (5-14, 11 points), senior Bobby Mpuku, who hit three of five three-point attempts on his way to ten points, and freshman Phil Barlow (4-8, 10 points) took advantage of many good looks from the outside, resulting from the intimidating presence of Flaherty and Pedroletti in the paint.

Junior Bobby MacMannis continued with his hot shooting, which has helped spark the Jumbos since his return from a wrist injury that had sidelined him earlier in the season. MacMannis shot 2-3 for eight points in only 15 minutes of action.

Despite shooting only 41 percent in the first half, the Jumbos jumped off to 34-28 lead at halftime, mostly because of their stifling defense, which limited the Bobcats to 28 percent shooting in the first half and only 34 percent for the game.

"The key was getting back on defense and stopping their penetration to the basket," sophomore Lee Neugebauer said. "They thrived off their penetration and dish to the big man or three-point shooter. Coach Sheldon made a point of making sure we stayed in front of our men and didn't gamble."

Emotion from the locker room carried the Jumbos through a dismal shooting first half.

"In the two games before the Bates one, we played very flat with no energy or emotion" Neugebauer said. "But in the locker room before the Bates game, the team made a point of making sure we came out with life, showing emotion. I think that is what kept us in the game the whole time."

Bates came within two points (39-37) of the Jumbos with 15:31 left in the second half, after freshman Ramon Garcia hit a lay-up to cap off a 9-2 Bobcats' burst. But Tufts responded with a 9-1 run of its own, putting the game out of reach.

"Bates did get to 39-37, but we were always in control," Sheldon said. "We were never behind, and down the stretch we just were better than they were."

"I think the major thing was withstanding their spurts," Shapiro said. "They cut the lead to two or three a couple of times and their fans really started getting into it. But we were able to turn it up a notch and build the lead back up."

The team continues its season on Wednesday in Dartmouth, Mass., squaring off against UMass-Dartmouth, currently the top-ranked Division III school in New England. The Jumbos resume NESCAC play Friday at home against Trinity. Tufts is looking to maintain the intensity that carried it to victory against the Bobcats.

"This win was huge," Sheldon said. "The NESCAC is so tough this year that anything can happen. Any away win in the league is huge, and to start with a win against a good team, away, can only be good."

"In our next game, we are looking to gain respect throughout New England," Neugebauer said. "Umass-Dartmouth is number one in New England right now and if we beat them, I think there is no doubt that we should be number one."