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

Tufts back to .500 following three-game winning streak

Tufts guard Ben Farris, a senior, moves around a WPI defender to shoot.

The men’s basketball team defeated Trinity College on Saturday 59-55 to improve to 7-7 on the season and increase its current win streak to three. Two sophomores, center Hunter Sabety and guard Tarik Smith, led the way with 14 points apiece. This comes just a day after Tufts, led by 18 points from Smith, upset then-No. 25 Amherst College 80-53.

The Trinity game was tight from the opening tip-off to the final buzzer, with both teams vying to take control. In the end there were 10 ties and nine lead changes, with the Jumbos taking the final advantage on a jump shot by sophomore tri-captain forward Tom Palleschi. Both the teams were equal on the boards, with 32 rebounds apiece and both almost identical in assists and turnovers. Although the Jumbos only shot 14 percent from three (1-7), they made up with a total field goal percentage of 45.8, along with shooting 14-15 from the free throw line. 

Despite a strong showing from Trinity sophomore center Ed Ogundeko, with 14 points and seven rebounds, Smith again stole the show, scoring double digits for the third straight game. Finishing with 14 points, four rebounds and two assists, Smith provided a jump-start to the Jumbo offense.

The day before, Sabety and Smith dominated Amherst in different ways. Sabety scored 14 points and had four blocks, helping give the Jumbos a 24-16 advantage on points in the paint. Smith continued his hot shooting by going 5-7 from the field, including 2-3 from behind the arc.

Over the win streak, he has averaged over 17 points per game on 72 percent shooting from the field. Just a little over a week ago he had been moved to the bench.

“[Being taken out of the starting line-up] honestly put on a chip on my shoulder,” Smith said. “I got in the gym a lot more and regained my confidence.”

Coach Bob Sheldon made the decision to tweak the line-up after going 4-7 in non-conference play. Smith was moved to the bench for the first time this season before a game last week against Middlebury. He would go on to score 20 points in 28 minutes on 7-9 shooting.

“[Smith has] done a great job for us,” Sheldon said. “We just wanted to get him back to his roots of playing hard and playing focused.”

Although Smith’s play has helped boost Tufts to 3-0 in NESCAC play, the  combination of sophomore big men Sabety and Palleschi has also begun to pay off. Both Sabety and Palleschi had phenomenal first-year campaigns; however, due to Palleschi’s heart problems last season they were not able to play together until this season. Initially, there was speculation about whether both big men could play together, but the two have thrived during the win streak.

“We both want to post-up,” Sabety said. “In recent games we have started to run more and space the floor better. We have focused on working the ball around the perimeter and improving interior passing. We started the season slow and  are just trying to figure it all out. We always knew we had a lot of talent on the team and we are finally starting to find our roles."

“If you look at last year’s team, very few of these guys have had time together, so it took us awhile to get used to each other, and I think it’s a growing thing," Sheldon said. "Most of our core contributors are underclassmen, so the future is looking bright.”

While the team has played significantly better in recent games, Sheldon has made it clear that this trend is not due to any significant changes in strategy or approach to the game.

“We have not changed anything,” Sheldon said. “One of the things that we tell our guys in the beginning of the year is that you have to trust the process. We just got to get better and better. We have tweaked some things, but we have not changed anything.”

Tufts will need to continue its high level of play as it continues to face teams in one of the toughest basketball conferences in all of Div. III. Smith, however, is confident that the adversity the Jumbos have faced will only prove to strengthen them in the long run.

“It is unfortunate that we lost a couple of close games earlier this season,” Smith said. “Those losses were tough, but we play a tough schedule, and [it] will help us prepare for later on in the season."

Tufts will look to extend its streak to four against UMass-Boston (9-7) at Cousens Gym tonight at 7:00 pm.