The women's basketball team earned more than just an impressive win over a previously unbeaten New England foe Tuesday night. It also earned a shot at history.
The Jumbos matched their best-ever start under coach Carla Berube Tuesday, improving to 7-0 after topping non-conference Salem State, 70-55, at Cousens Gymnasium. Tufts is now tied with the 2004-05 and the 1991-92 squads for the second-best start in program history.
Unlike the team's 68-40 drubbing of Colby-Sawyer on Saturday, a game in which the Jumbos never trailed and led by as many as 35 points, Tuesday's clash with the Vikings was a far closer affair.
For the first time this season, Tufts found itself trailing at the half, taking a 29-28 deficit into the intermission. The lead traded hands four times over the first 9:06 of the second half before the Jumbos used a 29-12 run over the remaining 11 minutes to pull away.
For a squad that came into the game having won its last six by an average of over 17 points, it was good to know that it can also win the type of grind-it-out game it is sure to face in its NESCAC schedule.
"It was definitely a hard-fought, come-from-behind victory, and it was just kind of a gritty effort by the team," Berube said. "When the shots weren't falling, we attacked the glass well, got some key offensive rebounds, earned some key jump balls and just got after it. The way we played in the second half is the way that we need to be playing."
The turning point of the game came at the 9:41 mark of the second half, when freshman guard Lindsay Weiner and junior guard Kim Moynihan buried three-pointers on consecutive possessions to turn a one-point deficit into a five-point advantage.
From there, Tufts expanded its lead to double digits. Colleen Hart iced the game with six free throws in the final 1:18. Hart, who is a perfect 26-for-26 from the charity stripe this season, paced the Jumbos with 16 points and six assists. The freshman point guard's two first-half threes kept her a blistering 50 percent from beyond the arc. Hart has quickly earned the squad's confidence, and Berube's, too - the freshman has played a team-leading 234 minutes this season.
"I've only been here four years, but I've never seen anyone adjust so well and play so hard as just a freshman," senior co-captain Jenna Gomez said. "She rarely turns the ball over, she's a great teammate, she practices really hard and she hustles on every play."
Also chipping in for the Jumbos was junior center Katie Tausanovitch, who finished with 13 points on an economical 6-for-7. Tausanovitch added 10 rebounds for her third double-double of the season and blocked four shots. She also managed 31 minutes despite picking up her second foul less than five minutes into the game, something that proved critical for Tufts considering the team's leading scorer, senior co-captain Khalilah Ummah, was held in check for much of the game.
"It was huge because [Tausanovitch] is just such a big presence inside defensively," Berube said. "She knew how many fouls she had, and she didn't want to pick up any stupid ones. She's smart, and she does a good job with that. It has happened a few games now in this early season, so she knows what she needs to do."
Tuesday night's game was the halfway point in a stretch that will see the Jumbos play four games in eight days before beginning a month-long holiday hiatus. With so many games packed into the week's schedule, Berube has relied heavily on her bench. In Saturday's win over Colby-Sawyer, Tufts' reserves outscored the Chargers' bench 26-7, and Tuesday, Weiner and sophomore forward Julia Baily combined for 12 second-half points.
"We need those kinds of contributions from the bench," Berube said. "I feel like we all need to be a huge part of this and that we all need to find some way to contribute. It's going to be important to have a strong, strong bench, especially when we have so many games this week."
The third of those games comes tonight, when Tufts heads to Simmons College to take on a 2-4 Sharks, a team that the Jumbos thrashed 82-50 last year. With a win, Tufts would improve to 8-0 and match the program mark for the best start to a season, set during the 1990-91 season.
"We'll be ready," Berube said. "We'll be going into their gym, and it's never easy to play on the road. Hopefully we just play our game and come out victorious."