Returning home for the first time since Dec. 11th to face Bates in a critical conference showdown, the men's basketball team coughed up a 15-point lead before ultimately dropping the contest 72-68 in overtime.
The Jumbos' combination of strong defensive rebounding and effective outside shooting allowed them to jump ahead early. Tufts used a 16-4 run to build a 37-22 first-half lead and took a 42-28 advantage into halftime. But the Jumbos' good fortunes evaporated, as the high-energy defense, good shooting and inspired rebounding seemed to disappear in the second half.
"We weren't taking bad shots," said senior tri-captain Jake Weitzen, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. "They just weren't falling in the second half."
"We didn't have the same intensity or energy as the first half," sophomore Bryan Lowry added. "They charged right out of the gate."
Plagued by poor shooting in the first half, the Bobcats were able to get more easy baskets, free throws and multiple chances at the hoop by driving to the basket in the second half rather than settling for outside jumpers.
The Jumbos, meanwhile, managed only eight second-half field goals, and they didn't make a free throw until junior Aaron Gallant hit a pair with 2:46 left in the game. Junior Jon Pierce, who dominated the first half with 16 points, managed only five over the final 25 minutes of the game.
Both Weitzen and Lowry noticed little change in the Bobcat defense.
"The defense wasn't too different," Lowry said. "They were just a very physical team, and they hit the glass hard."
"They played man-to-man the whole time," Weitzen added. "Again, the big thing was just the fact that our outside shots were not falling in the second half."
Defensively, Tufts had a difficult time guarding Bates senior Bryan Wholey, who led all scorers with 28 points. Wholey had 11 points in the second half, including a clutch three-pointer with 26 seconds left that knotted the game at 63. He went on to score six of the Bobcats' nine overtime points, and he added four key steals on the afternoon, including three in the second half.
Bates had 10 second-half steals overall, a solid indication of the full-court press the Bobcats used to rattle the Jumbos and apply pressure to senior point guard Jeremy Black. Black, who hit four of six three-point attempts for 12 points and added four assists, played effectively, yet at times it seemed as if no other player was willing to handle the basketball. Bates' defensive aggression caused a total of 22 turnovers, 14 in the second half.
"They concentrated on being more physical than us," Weitzen said. "They weren't working harder than we were - they were just more focused."
Over the final 26 seconds of regulation, the Jumbos had plenty of time to work for a last shot, but they struggled to find an open look. Weitzen was forced to launch a last-second three that fell off the mark, forcing the game into overtime.
Tufts held a brief 66-65 lead in the extra session, but Bates finished the game on a 7-2 run, capped by three clutch free throws, two by Wholey and one by junior Ben Thayer.
With the win, Bates improved to 1-2 in the NESCAC and 10-5 overall. Tufts, now 0-3 in the conference for the first time this century, plays host to Western New England tomorrow night. The Jumbos and Golden Bears share identical 9-7 overall records, and neither team will have much time to prepare.
"We need to go back to the way we played in the first half," Lowry said. "We need that high energy and high intensity on defense."
"We need to focus on defensive rebounding," Weitzen added. "We were just not physical enough."