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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Men's Basketball | Jumbos drop to 0-5 in NESCAC with losses to Conn., Wesleyan

Coming into the weekend, the men's basketball team knew its season was hinging on the outcomes of the upcoming two games. But what was billed as a must-win weekend turned into a nightmare, as the Jumbos dropped two crucial NESCAC contests against Conn. College and Wesleyan to fall to last place all alone in the conference standings.

Saturday's game against Wesleyan came down to the wire, but the Cardinals pulled away. With the game tied at 76 and 1:11 left on the clock, Wesleyan senior co-captain Nick Pelletier, who had scored his 1,000th career point earlier in the game, knocked down a three-point shot from the corner. Tufts quickly answered with two free throws from junior forward Jon Pierce, who led all scorers with 25.

Needing a stop on the defensive end, Tufts forced Wesleyan guard Jeremy Kaminer into an off-balance three which hit the side of the rim and was rebounded by Tufts senior-tri-captain guard Ryan O'Keefe, who immediately called timeout with 23.2 seconds on the clock.

On the ensuing inbound play, the Jumbos struggled to get the ball inside to Pierce, as the Cardinals double-teamed him on the low block and denied him the ball. Instead, senior tri-captain Jake Weitzen settled for a fall-away jumper that hit the front rim with 7.5 seconds remaining.

"We were going off the pick to get the ball to Jake, who was then going to dump it in to Jon Pierce," coach Bob Sheldon said. "They really overplayed Jon and doubled him. Jake got stuck with it and he took a shot he could make."

But the Jumbos were not dead yet, as Wesleyan junior Jon Sargent went just 1-of-2 from the free-throw line to up the Cardinals lead to two. With 2.1 seconds left, Tufts had one last chance, but O'Keefe could not send Tufts to overtime, missing the final jumper.

The Jumbos' loss was especially disappointing considering their 49-44 halftime lead. The first half of the game was a high-scoring back-and-forth affair, with both teams shooting 52 percent from the field. The Jumbos were led by the strong play of senior Pat Sullivan, who had a career-high 20 points, with four three-pointers in the first half.

"He's been shooting in practice and not missing, and we told him, if you get it in the games take it," Sheldon said. "Wesleyan stopped giving him open looks in the second half, so it made it a little harder."

The second half, however, bore very little resemblance to the first, as both teams struggled to find any offensive flow.

"We were playing different guys because of our foul trouble, and also the fatigue," Sheldon said. "We went 0-for-12 from threes."

Throughout the second half, neither team could pull away from the other. Tufts had a double-digit lead early in the period, but Wesleyan started to chip away and eventually tied the game at 69-69 on a layup by senior forward Sean Collins with 7:30 remaining. The teams traded baskets until the Pelletier three-pointer gave the Cardinals the lead for good.

In Friday night's 83-76 loss to Conn. College, the Camels scored the first 10 points of the game before the Jumbos called a timeout to sort things over.

"We just didn't come out prepared to play," Pierce said. "We came out in the first five minutes and probably had four or five turnovers. We just didn't come out ready."

With 12 minutes left in the first half, the Camels led 21-6, with all six Tufts points coming on two Weitzen three-pointers. The lead then increased to 17 points, at 35-18. Tufts, however, would finish the half strong, on a 12-5 run that cut the Camels' lead to 10, 40-30, going into halftime. Pierce had the exclamation point, hitting a jumper as time expired.

"Some guys came off the bench and made some hustle plays," Pierce said. "We went into the locker room with confidence."

The confidence carried over into the second-half in a big way: The Jumbos rode an early 15-4 run to take a 48-47 lead on a three-pointer by sophomore Dave Beyel with 15:14 left to play. Beyel hit four three-pointers and had a career-high 17 points.

"We put the press on the whole second half." Sheldon said. "We wanted to up-tempo the game and we did."

As in the Wesleyan game, neither team could pull away, as the second half included six ties. After the sixth, however, the Camels went on a 9-2 run to take a 73-66 lead with 3:23 to play. Tufts twice got to within four points, but the Camels made all their free throws down the stretch.

"It came down to the end and we just didn't make the plays when we needed to," Sheldon said.

Conn. College shot a sizzling 57 percent from the field, including 10-for-17 on threes. They were paced by 22 from senior tri-captain Charles Stone and 21 from sophomore tri-captain Shavar Bernier. Pierce led all scorers with 24 points, followed by Beyel's 17, Weitzen's 16 and O'Keefe's 15.

The losses drop Tufts to 10-9 overall, but more importantly 0-5 in the NESCAC. Sheldon, however, knows his team has the talent to turn it around.

"The one thing we have to do is stay together as a team, not come in and point fingers," Sheldon said. "We just need to come in and work our butts off and see what happens."