Three days after letting a second-half lead slip away in Saturday's game against Bates, the men's basketball team made its own comeback this time around.
Behind strong bench play and lights-out shooting after the break, the Jumbos overcame a 13-point second-half deficit and defeated the Western New England College (WNEC) Golden Bears, 97-89, at Cousens Gym on Tuesday night.
Tufts trailed 50-42 at halftime and was down 67-54 after a jumper by WNEC sophomore guard Chris DeVine at the 14-minute mark of the second half. But over the next six-plus minutes, the Jumbos outscored the Golden Bears 23-9 to take a 77-76 lead with 7:45 left on the clock.
The bench played a big role in the comeback. Sophomore forward Dave Beyel hit two three-pointers, senior center Pat Sullivan had two layups and sophomore guard Dan Cook made a conventional three-point play during the run.
"As a bench guy, all I can do is try and bring the intensity and try to do the things the other guys don't do," Sullivan said.
"A lot of the bench guys had huge games," said senior tri-captain Jake Weitzen, who had 13 points and seven rebounds. "They brought composure and some key offensive rebounds and made tough plays that we needed. It inspired the rest of the guys to play tough ball."
WNEC would answer, regaining the lead at 82-81 following a pair of free throws from Golden Bear senior tri-captain Asif Abdul-Wadud with just 4:32 remaining in the game. The Jumbos, however, still had plenty left in the tank and went on an 8-0 run initiated by a Weitzen three-pointer.
The lead would be whittled down to four points, 93-89, on a three-pointer from WNEC junior guard Matt Maynard, but the Golden Bears would get no closer. Senior point guard Jeremy Black went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final minute to seal the victory.
In the early going, it seemed as if WNEC couldn't miss. The Golden Bears shot 56 percent from the floor in the first half, including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. Senior tri-captain guard Ryan Hernandez was a particular thorn in the Jumbos' side, scoring 14 of his 21 points in the first half and hitting all three of his three-point attempts.
"They were making very tough shots," Weitzen said. "Every time we thought we were playing pretty good defense, they hit a tough shot, and it got us a little worn down."
The second half saw a complete role reversal, as Tufts started hitting the mark while the Golden Bears began to find the rim unkind. The Jumbos shot 63 percent from the field in the second half and made an impressive 7 of 12 threes.
"When we went on a run, we started to really look for the extra pass," Sullivan said. "We were very unselfish and trusted each other."
WNEC, on the other hand, struggled with its shooting after Tufts made a major adjustment at halftime.
"We focused on playing strong man-to-man defense and limiting them to one shot per possession and not letting them get any offensive rebounds," Weitzen said.
Hernandez in particular had trouble shaking the defense of senior tri-captain guard Ryan O'Keefe, shooting a tepid 2-of-6 from the field and totaling only seven points. O'Keefe's return to the starting lineup after a nine-game absence played a big role in the Jumbos' victory, and his presence on the court transcended the box score.
"The most underrated part of Ryan is his defense," Weitzen said. "He guarded Hernandez in the second half and really limited him."
Junior forward Jon Pierce once again led all scorers with 28 points, while also adding nine rebounds. Black poured in 18, including four three-pointers.
Four WNEC players scored in double figures, led by 21 from Hernandez. Junior forward Kyle Fredette added 16 points and 12 rebounds, and senior forward Jim Bayne also finished with 16 points.
With the victory, Tufts snaps a three-game losing streak as it prepares for two key NESCAC games against a pair of Connecticut foes, Conn. College and Wesleyan. Still winless in NESCAC play (0-3), the Jumbos know both games are critical.
"Our goal now is just to keep the season going," Weitzen said. "We know we have the talent and the players to make a great run."
"These games are huge," Sullivan added. "We take so much pride at winning at home that we feel we can beat anybody."