The men's basketball team entered the weekend on a three-game road winning streak, looking to both end its eight-game-road trip and open its conference schedule in a positive fashion.
Things did not exactly go according to plan. Tufts suffered two setbacks on its first weekend of NESCAC competition, dropping a 79-68 decision to Amherst Friday night and falling 82-65 at Trinity the next day. The Jumbos fell to 9-6 overall and, more importantly, dropped into an 0-2 hole to begin conference play.
During Saturday afternoon's matchup with the Bantams in Hartford, fatigue from the previous night's game seemed to take its toll on the Tufts players.
"It was a huge factor," senior guard Jeremy Black said. "It was the second straight competitive game and we played hard the night before. It's about going out there and playing two different speeds, and we struggled to do that."
Mere hours after only seven players played significant minutes at Amherst, no starter played more than 29 minutes against Trinity. The Bantams took full advantage, breaking the game wide open with a 15-2 run early to turn a 7-7 tie into a 22-9 lead with 14:16 left in the first half.
Trinity shot 59.4 percent from the field in the period, including an astounding 9-of-15 from three-point range, to take a 20-point lead into halftime. Bantam senior guard Patrick Hasiuk led the way with 14 points in the opening period, while junior guard Paul Rowe added 10.
"Trinity out-hustled us," graduate tri-captain Ross Trethewey said. "They got all the loose balls. All the scrappy plays went their way. Every questionable call went their way."
Trinity's lead never shrunk below 15 points in the second half, as the Bantams sunk half of their field goal attempts and converted on 13 of 15 tries from the charity stripe.
"They hit their shots early against us and we were missing shots," Black said. "It escalated from there."
Despite an uncharacteristically poor shooting night, junior forward Jon Pierce led all scorers with 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while senior tri-captain Jake Weitzen had 13 points and seven rebounds for Tufts.
Just 17 hours before the tip-off in Hartford, the Jumbos were at LeFrak Gym in Amherst, Mass. to take on a nationally-ranked No. 3 Lord Jeffs team that won the Div. III national championship last year. But the Jumbos, who had forced Amherst to overtime in the teams' three previous meetings, could not stay with Amherst this time, falling 79-68.
Using an effective press, the Jeffs were able to slow down a previously-formidable Tufts offense, resulting in a season-low 24 first-half points.
"We struggled to score because of their size," Trethewey said. "Their big guys were pushing ours off the block, making our shots a lot tougher."
"They picked us up full-court and they also slowed us down in transition in the first half," added Black, who was held scoreless for the first time this season.
Early on, the Jeffs took a 14-10 lead when 6-foot-10 Amherst senior center Kevin Hopkins finished consecutive trips with dunks after his defender was knocked to the ground on both plays.
The Amherst height advantage gave Tufts fits all night, as the home team out-rebounded the visitors 35-20, including 11-5 on the offensive glass. In all, the Jeffs' first 26 points were all scored by players of at least 6-foot-6 - taller than any of the Jumbos' starting five.
"We felt like we had an advantage in having quicker big guys and we were hoping to spread out the floor and have our big guys take them off the dribble," Black said. "But I think in the first half our spacing wasn't great."
Up 10-8 early in the first half, Tufts saw Amherst go on a 16-0 run before sophomore forward Dave Beyel hit a three-pointer at the 7:30 mark. The Jeffs quickly responded with a basket of their own, giving them a 26-13 lead with 6:59 left in the first half. The teams would trade baskets as the clock wound down, and Amherst went to the locker room with a 38-24 lead.
Tufts came out of the break strong, going on a 14-7 run, and in the process cutting the Amherst lead to 45-38 with 15:51 left to play.
"In the second half we picked up the tempo and played at the speed we're used to playing," Black said. "We spread them out and opened up the floor and attacked much easier."
The run was sparked by Weitzen, who had five points in the span. Weitzen scored a game-high 22 points, including 20 in the second half, but struggled with foul trouble trying to defend Amherst's big men.
Amherst had a response for every Tufts run, as the Jumbos closed within single digits of the Lord Jeffs but were unable to get over the hump. Back-to-back three-pointers by Beyel and Pierce would cut the lead to 65-58 with 4:33 to play, but the game would never get closer, as Amherst made its free throws down the stretch to finish off the Jumbos. Amherst had five players score in double figures, led by junior Brian Baskauskas' 17 points.
The losses highlighted how sorely the Jumbos miss senior tri-captain Ryan O'Keefe, who is out with an ankle injury.
"Not having Ryan's huge," Trethewey said. "He's one of our go-to guys. He's our senior captain. Not only offensively, but defensively he brings a lot to the table, so not having him was huge."
Though still uncertain, there's a chance O'Keefe will be on the court when the Jumbos finally return to Cousens Gym to take on Bates on Saturday. After eight straight games away from Medford, the Jumbos are happy to be home, and hope the Tufts faithful can help them regain their step.
"A lot of road games take a wear on you," Black said. "We're excited to get back in front of the home crowd in our gym where we're a little more comfortable playing."