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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 19, 2024

No. 11 Engineers outlast Jumbos in overtime battle

The men’s basketball team beat Colby 88-81 in overtime at the Fan the Fire event on Feb. 14, 2014.

The men's basketball team dropped to 2-3 last Tuesday, losing to Massachusetts Institute of Technology 71-64 in overtime before the Thanksgiving break. Although the loss may have left an empty feeling in the team's stomach that not even turkey and stuffing could fill, there were many positives to take away from the Jumbos' performance against the then-No. 16 Engineers.

MIT, which has since climbed to No. 11 in the Div. III rankings, has arguably been the best team that Tufts has played all year, and following disappointing early season losses to Johnson & Wales and Regis, Tufts has already shown significant improvement that will need to continue if it hopes to perform well in conference play.

MIT looked like the superior team within eight minutes, jumping out to a quick 14-4 lead behind six points from junior guard Ryan Frankel and five turnovers from Tufts, three of which led to points for MIT.

"We knew MIT was going to execute well, and we knew they were really big and really disciplined," senior guard Adam Zakaria said. "I think we just wanted to make sure everybody was crashing in for rebounds and taking care of the ball ... and communicating on defense was also a key."

But at the 10 minute mark, when coach Bob Sheldon sent starting guards sophomore Tarik Smith and senior tri-captain Ben Ferris, and starting sophomore center Hunter Sabety back into the game, the Jumbos proceeded to turn the contest around, going on an 11-0 run to take the lead 17-14.

For the rest of the half, both teams exchanged blows, with neither side able to build a lead of more than four. The Engineers, however, were able to take the lead going into the half, thanks to sharpshooting junior guard Justin Pedley hitting three 3-pointers in the final seven minutes.

"They would set stagger screens on two people and we just didn't communicate them well enough, and Pedley would get good open looks," Zakaria said. "Even though they were pretty far from the basket, if you have a good shooter at this level, it doesn't really matter."

For most of the second half, the Engineers were able to maintain a lead that fluctuated between three and nine points. Once again, though, when the game appeared to be getting out of hand, the Jumbos made a run, this time cutting a nine-point deficit at the 12-minute mark to just one point with seven minutes to go. Freshman guard Vincent Pace cued the comeback with six points during that stretch.

"It's definitely important to have resilience, and we talk about not getting too high when we're up and not getting too low when we're down," Ferris said. "It's about staying together, and that's something we've put an emphasis on, and it's good to see that kind of matriculate in a game in a big-time situation like that."

Pace then continued to single-handedly keep Tufts close to MIT, scoring five points in the next two minutes to give his team the lead, 52-51. MIT then countered with a run of its own, building a 59-54 lead with three minutes to go behind six points from senior quad-captain forward Dennis Levene.

"It's awesome having a 6'6 point guard that can come in and know all the sets and run them really well," Ferris said of Pace's play. "He had a stretch where not only was he scoring, but he had a couple assists in that stretch, so they couldn't really guard him no matter what he was doing. It's good to have a playmaker like that where you can put the ball in his hands and let him go to work."

Tufts had enough juice for one more offensive push in the final two minutes. Ferris hit a huge 3-pointer with 2:26 remaining, and the Jumbos' defense held strong until Sabety could finally get to the foul line with 1:05 remaining. Sabety proceeded to sink two clutch free throws to tie the game at 59-59. Pace was able to get one last look with just under 20 seconds to go to win the game, but the shot didn't fall. Luckily, Sabety came up with a big block in the final seconds to send the contest into overtime.

Sabety also kept the Jumbos in the game for the first half of overtime, scoring four points in the opening minutes to give his team a 63-62 lead. However, the Engineers heated up from the field as they took advantage of a tiring Jumbos' defense, and at the same time, the Jumbos were unable to hit a field goal in the final three minutes. MIT finished the game on a 9-1 run to earn a hard-fought win, 71-64.

MIT benefited from strong performances from its starting corps, getting 20 points from Levene, 16 from Frankel and 13 from Pedley. For the most part, the Jumbos were able to stick to their game plan of working the ball inside to their two big men, Sabety (18 points) and sophomore tri-captain Tom Palleschi (10 points). Pace's continued contribution off the bench will also be a strong barometer of how the team fares, as his 13 points were critical to keeping Tufts in the game.

After a long break, Tufts is back at it tonight with a home game against WPI, in which the team will look to get back in the win column.