It's not often you can give up 88 points and emerge with a victory, but the men's basketball team did just that on Saturday, using its highest offensive output of the season to put away the Clark University Cougars, 98-88, at Cousens Gym.
With the high-scoring win, the Jumbos are on a roll, having won four games in eight days to improve to 5-2 on the year.
Junior forward Jon Pierce led the way once again with 25 points and nine rebounds, but Saturday's game once again proved that the Jumbos are far from a one-man team. For the second time this season, all five starters reached double figures, including a career-high 19 points from junior guard Aaron Gallant and 19 more from senior tri-captain Ryan O'Keefe.
The Cougars established their presence as a physical team early on. They recovered quickly after the Jumbos opened the game on a 6-0 run and their bruising style of play left no love lost between the two teams.
"There's definitely some bad blood between us," said senior tri-captain Jake Weitzen, who scored 14 points and added six assists. "One of the guys shoved me on the first play of the game, and the tone was set right there."
A jump ball at 14:42 between Pierce and three Cougars led to a scuffle in which sophomore Tom Selby came off the bench and received a technical foul. Teammates restrained both Pierce and Selby. Cougars head coach John Ginnity complained to the referees about the home crowd and multiple Tufts fans were ejected.
"They were overly physical," Weitzen said. "They tried to get us to focus on individual battles, like the referees or the coach, rather than the game."
Clark used its physical play, which led to 10 first-half turnovers and several fast-break buckets, to open its first lead at 22-20 midway through the opening period. Clark's aggressive defense produced several turnovers and flustered the Jumbos, who kept their composure and retook the lead on a three-pointer by O'Keefe with seven minutes remaining in the half.
"They tried to throw some traps at us," Gallant said. "They were a scrappy team, but we just had to play our game. They kept hitting shots, making the game a little more up-and-down than we're used to, but we hit shots also."
Another three-pointer, this one by senior Jeremy Black, who contributed 10 points and three assists for the Jumbos at the point, gave the Jumbos a 37-34 lead. They would never trail again.
Black handled the Clark pressure very well, overcoming the Cougars' press and limiting his offensive miscues. Black now has 11 assists and three turnovers in his last two games, boosting his season's assist-to-turnover ratio to 1.5.
"Their press was more of a slowdown than an actual press," Weitzen said. "The way [Black] handled it made us able to get us a lot of easy baskets. We were able to free up guys like Gallant for a lot of open looks."
With Tufts up 47-43 at the break, the teams traded baskets for the better part of the half until the Jumbos finally pulled away. Clark never got closer than four points, pulling to 75-71 at the 7:30 mark, when their up-tempo style of play finally stalled.
Senior forward Pat Landers, who scored 14 first-half points for Clark, was held to only four in the second half.
"It was just a matter of focusing on him," Weitzen said. "He got a couple buckets off their guards' penetration and dump-off in the first half, but we turned our attention to him in the second. We did a better job denying him post position."
Clark junior Peter Normandin led all scorers with 29 points, including an impressive 10-for-10 from the free throw line. As a team, the Cougars shot 90 percent and got 26 of their 88 points from the stripe.
The Cougars switched to a full-court man-to-man defense with 2:15 left in the contest, but it was too late. The Jumbos responded to the press with great ball movement and some easy baskets and cruised to the 10-point victory.
The Jumbos will travel to Plymouth State on Tuesday. Traditionally a regional contender, the Panthers have started the season slowly, and a four-game losing streak has them at 3-5 on the year.