Forget the three overtimes needed last year. This time, 40 minutes was all the men's basketball team needed to dispatch the national No. 16 Keene State Owls.
Behind a career-high 21 points from senior point guard Jeremy Black - his second straight big offensive game - and a monstrous 25-point, 11-rebound, six-block performance from junior forward Jon Pierce, the Jumbos ran out to a 41-29 halftime lead. After withstanding an early second-half comeback, they cruised to an impressive 81-67 victory in Keene, N.H.
Black, coming off an 18-point performance against MIT Saturday, was a big contributor to the early advantage. Tufts took an 18-15 lead on a three from Black with 11:21 left in the first half - his ninth straight point - and never trailed after that.
Tufts held Keene State, a team that came in averaging 92.2 points per game, to just 35 percent shooting from the field and a season-low 29 first-half points. The Jumbos, on the other hand, shot 51 percent from the field and went 11-for-21 from three-point range.
"Offensively, Keene State likes to run the floor and shoot a lot of quick shots, especially quick threes," senior tri-captain Jake Weitzen said. "We were prepared defensively and were able to slow them down and get on their shooters."
The game plan worked to a tee, as the Jumbos were able to slow down the tempo of the game. Keene State rarely saw an open three and closer to the hoop, Tufts made the Owls work for every basket, not allowing momentum to build through fast-break opportunities.
"We were able to pick up people in transition, so we forced them to score in their halfcourt set where they don't play as well," said Black, who spent the night badgering the Keene State guards with constant pressure.
However, such a high-scoring team could not be held down forever, and sure enough, Keene State made a quick 9-0 run five minutes into the second half. It started with a lay-up from senior forward Travon Little and continued with five quick points from senior guard Shiwon Davis and a jump shot from senior forward Nick Drouin, who had 13 points off the bench.
"We came into the game prepared that they were going to make a run and that we just needed to stay composed and play the way we have been," Weitzen said. "We were able to execute our plan."
Staying composed, Tufts responded with a 12-4 run of their own. Capped off by a Pierce turnaround shot in the lane, the run gave the Jumbos a 65-54 lead with 5:14 to play. Keene State did not threaten again, as Tufts had a response to every Owl basket and made the most of its free throws down the stretch. Pierce, who made five free throws in the final minute to seal the victory, was the rock of the offense, shooting an efficient 8-for-14, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
"In tough spots, we look to him every time we need a big basket," Weitzen said. "He's there every time we need him. He had six blocks, so he was also dominating inside defensively."
Pierce had to pick up some of the offensive slack after senior tri-captain Ryan O'Keefe and junior guard Aaron Gallant got into early foul trouble, but he had help from the bench. Sophomore forward Dave Beyel had seven points, while senior forward Pat Sullivan chipped in with two points and seven rebounds. Black also did his part to relieve the burden, shooting 4-for-6 from the field, including 3-of-5 from three-point range, and going 10-for-11 from the charity stripe.
"The most important thing when you go to the line is to have confidence," Black said. "I was able to make a few early in the season and get on the right track, and I haven't really looked back."
The Owls, whose offense never seemed to click, were led by Little and All-American junior forward Tyler Kathan, who had 19 and 20 points, respectively.
With its trip to New Hampshire complete, Tufts returns to Medford on Thursday night to host Babson in a rematch of last year's 84-76 loss in Wellesley.
"Last year they jumped on us early, so we're going to bring more intensity and bring our A game," Weitzen said.