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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Men's Basketball | Pierce drops 36 as Jumbos drop Babson, 88-71

After the monster performance Jon Pierce let loose on the No. 16 Keene State Owls Tuesday night - 25 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks - any reasonable human being would question whether the junior forward would have anything left in the tank two nights later.

Last night, however, was one that defied reason.

Pierce absolutely exploded for the Jumbos in their non-conference tilt with Babson, going off for 36 points, the most by any Jumbo in over a decade. He was 6-for-10 from beyond the three-point arc, 8-for-8 inside it, and 2-for-3 from the free-throw line, propelling Tufts to its third straight win, an 88-71 final at Cousens Gym.

"I don't know if I'm more amazed with the shots that he takes, or the shots that he makes," said senior tri-captain Jake Weitzen, who quietly added 15. "But he was unbelievable. It was an incredible performance tonight."

"It was my teammates, really," said Pierce, who shattered his previous career high of 26. "I know that may sound humble or whatever, but my teammates just recognized that I was feeling it. They got me the ball in position to shoot. Pretty much everything was off of assists - I didn't have to work at all. My teammates screened, and we moved so well on offense."

The visiting Beavers pulled ahead early, as a quick jumper from junior guard Zach Etten and a three from senior tri-captain Kyle McDonald made it 5-0 after 36 seconds. But from there, it was all Jumbos, as a 21-7 run over the next seven minutes put them up for good. Pierce scored 14 of the 21 himself, including a pair of NBA-range threes.

"He was in the groove," coach Bob Sheldon said. "And what's great in a game like that is to see the team give him the ball. Give him the shots, let him keep going, let him ride it. And we did that. Even though it was a great individual effort, part of it was the team coming through for him."

The Jumbos extended their lead to 46-36 at halftime. Pierce had 23 by the break, while Weitzen added eight on a perfect 3-of-3 first half from the floor. But even with a double-digit lead, the Jumbos refused to take a win for granted. They still had last year's Babson game - an ugly 84-76 loss in Babson Park Jan. 30, where they trailed by 18 points at halftime and never caught up - in the backs of their minds, and they were eager to erase that memory.

"Our pregame talk was about matching their intensity," Sheldon said. "They kicked the s--t out of us last year, but only because they played harder ... Our team has only three new guys. Twelve guys were there last year, and they remembered. I didn't have to get them going at all - they were up for this game. They wanted to win it."

The Jumbos came out swinging in the second half, going on an 8-1 run to open the frame behind a layup by Weitzen and threes from Pierce and senior guard Jeremy Black.

All in all, the Jumbos made 13 threes on the night, six in the first half and seven in the second. Aside from Pierce's six treys, six other Jumbos - Weitzen, Black, senior Pat Sullivan, sophomores Dave Beyel and Dan Cook and freshman Matt Galvin - connected from beyond the arc. Galvin's jumper with 3:07 left in the first half gave him the first three points of his career.

"We love when teams play zone," Weitzen said. "We have the passing ability and the shooters to light a team up, especially at home. If we're going to get uncontested threes, we're going to take them every time."

Defensively, the Jumbos were far from perfect, but they got the job done. Senior forward Greg Bush came off the Babson bench for a team-high 20 points, and McDonald added 17, but aside from those two, the Tufts zone kept the Beavers' shooters under control.

"If we hold teams to around 70 points, then there's not a lot of teams in the country that can hold us to under that," Pierce said. "There were some mix-ups on zone in the first half, but we went in at halftime and talked about just coming out with energy."

The win was the Jumbos' third in five days, quickly propelling the team from 1-2 after last week's Brandeis loss to a respectable 4-2 mark heading into tomorrow's Clark game. But the team still isn't satisfied - Sheldon's philosophy is a simple "4-2 won't make NCAAs" - and with a competitive NESCAC schedule awaiting them next month, the Jumbos hope to keep improving.

"Last year we came out strong at the beginning of the season, but we never really made leaps forward," Pierce said. "This year, we feel like we're making a leap every game, every practice - we play hard every single play. And that's the big thing. That's our motto for this year - bring it, every single play."