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

Jumbos stay above .500 after weekend split

Fans coming to the Cousens Gym Friday night hoping to see Linsanity 2.0 -- courtesy of NBA point guard Jeremy Lin's younger brother Joseph -- were disappointed. Instead, they witnessed Tufts put together a solid team performance in its 70-63 win over Lin and his Hamilton Continentals.

However, fans that stuck around for Saturday's game against Williams were treated to an impressive performance from sophomore tri-captain center Tom Palleschi, and almost equally impressive comeback effort from Tufts in the final minutes of the game.

Although the comeback fell short, leaving Tufts with an 80-75 loss to Williams, and a 5-3 record in the NESCAC, Palleschi's dominance and the team's collective effort left Tufts with plenty of positive takeaways from the loss.

"We could've packed it in," coach Bob Sheldon said. "We could've lost that game by 10 or 12, and instead it went right down to the end."

The game was also a Fan the Fire event as part of a larger national Autism Awareness day. The team donated proceeds from the concession stand to autism research and honored Tufts University School of Medicine's research efforts in this field at halftime.

It was also a special day for seniors Adam Zakaria and Ben Ferris, who were both honored for Senior Day. Ferris has the distinction of being the only four-year senior on the team, while Zakaria transferred from University of Massachusetts-Amherst before his junior year.

The game started with a 3-pointer from Williams senior guard Daniel Wohl and a layup from Palleschi at the other end of the court. That sequence would play out throughout the first half.

At the 15 minute mark, Palleschi went to work, scoring the next 12 points for Tufts while single-handedly holding off the Ephs' 3-point bombardier squad. Palleschi has appeared to grow more and more comfortable taking on a bigger role in the post since sophomore center Hunter Sabety's injury.

Against Williams, Palleschi did a great job of getting in position once he received the ball, taking his time and working to get a good shot, pass or repost. Palleschi can sometimes suffer from going to his patented left-handed hookshot too quickly when he gets the ball down low, but against the Ephs he resorted to an assortment of hookshots, up-and-unders and a devastating quick turnaround jumpshot.

The final first half stat-line for Palleschi: 22 points on 11 of 14 shooting and seven rebounds.

"We entered the game with the game plan of getting the ball inside, and I can't thank my teammates enough for getting me the ball inside," Palleschi said. "They kept finding me and shots just kept falling. Sometimes you get in the zone and you can't stop."

The end of the half ended as fittingly as possible: With 10 seconds to go, first-year forward Ben Engvall had his shot tipped by Wohl and the resulting loose ball bounced into Palleschi's hands as the clock wound down. Palleschi took a dribble into the left corner and turned around for a one-footed, off-balance fadeaway jumper. The ball arced as cleanly as possible through the center of the hoop to finish off Palleschi's incredible performance.

"The end of half shot was kind of hilarious," Palleschi said. "I felt kind of like [Dallas Mavericks forward] Dirk Nowitzki with that leg up."

Palleschi helped his team to a 37-32 halftime lead, despite the fact that nobody else on the team scored more than four points in the half. On the other end, Williams' balanced attack resulted in four players scoring five or more points, including 11 from Wohl.

The Ephs consistently broke down the Jumbos' 3-2 zone with dribble penetration, allowing the Ephs to drive and kick and rotate the ball to an open shooter beyond the arc faster than the Jumbos' defense could respond.

"We kind of knew they were going to be alright [against the zone]," Sheldon said. "They have such good shooters and if you move it around enough against a zone its trouble."

In the second half, Tufts switched predominantly to man-to-man, but Williams countered with running a series of wing handoffs, high pick-and-pops and off-ball screens to get their shooters open. The Jumbos had a difficult time reading the Ephs' movement and, too many times, would leave either the screener or the popper open at the top of the key.

Wohl had a huge second half, scoring 20 points on five of eight shooting and three of four from three-point range, giving him a game-high 31. Senior guard Hayden Rooke-Ley scored 14 in the second half to give him 21 for the game. Both guards also had double-doubles; Wohl had 13 rebounds and Rooke-Ley had 10.

"I think Wohl and Rooke-Ley may be the best set of wings in the NESCAC," Sheldon said.

Regardless, Sheldon was not pleased with his team's defensive effort throughout the game.

"We didn't play good defense, we didn't get to their shooters," Sheldon said. "We knew [that they shoot]. They're all [good shooters], so you can't help out, and they've got some guys that can drive. We just did not defend well; our zone didn't work well, and our man-to-man didn't work that well."

On the other end of the floor, Tufts offense fell apart as Palleschi appeared to tire, and the shooting drought for the rest of the team continued.

"Fatigue was definitely a big problem, and I didn't seal nearly as well as I did in the first half," Palleschi said of the difficulties he had getting the ball in the second half. "They started fronting in the post and sending two or three guys and its tough, but I still have to have faith and kick it out and if shots don't fall, they don't fall."

At the 12-minute mark, the Ephs went on a 13-1 run over the next six minutes that gave them a 63-53 lead and appeared to put the game out of reach.However, the Jumbos responded with a 9-4 run of their own to make the score 67-62 with 4:19 to play. The run was punctuated by a thunderous put-back dunk from sophomore forward Drew Madsen.

However, on the very next possession, Wohl silenced the crowd with a three-point dagger to push the lead back to eight. Williams made four free throws in the next two minutes to go up 74-62 at the 2:19 mark.

But the Jumbos saved the best performance of the day for last. Sophomore point guard Tarik Smith, who had been relatively quiet all day, was given the keys to the car for the last minutes of the game and delivered spectacularly.

Smith hit a layup at the 2:06 mark, and after Tufts forced a turnover, came down the floor for another slicing layup to cut Williams' lead to eight. The Jumbos then had a costly non-shooting foul at the 1:23 mark giving the Ephs two free throws because they were in the double bonus.

Williams converted one, and after a missed jumper on the other end of the floor, Smith was called for a foul on what appeared to be an impressive block. Again, the Ephs hit one-of-two to go up 76-66.

Smith came down at the other end and immediately drew a foul and hit both of his free throws. Tufts went into a full-court press on the ensuing inbounds, and when Williams inbounded the ball, Smith came from behind for a steal and was hit as went up for the layup. The ball rolled around the cylinder before dropping in, and Smith hit the free throw to complete the and-one.

With the Jumbo faithful on their feet, Tufts' full-court press caused Williams to throw the ball to Tufts first-year guard Vincent Pace under the hoop. Pace took advantage and quickly hit a layup to make the score 78-75 with 43 seconds to play.

Sheldon elected not to foul on Williams' next possession, and with cheers of "de-fense" echoing through Cousens, Tufts' defense came up with the biggest stop of the game and forced Rooke-Ley to throw the ball out of bounds with 11 seconds to play.

However, after executing everything perfectly in the final two minutes, Tufts came up just short in its final possession to complete the comeback. Palleschi set a pick for Smith at the top of the key. Smith went left, hesitated to consider a step-back three, then went back around the pick to the right, stepped back and was left wide-open at the top of key. Smith set himself and let the shot fly, but it clanked off the right of the rim.

"I just told [Tarik], 'keep your head up and you're going to make that shot nine out of 10 times," Sheldon said. "I would want him to take that shot in that situation every time."

The excitement throughout Tufts' loss on Saturday was not quite the same against Hamilton on Friday, as Tufts took the lead with 4:20 to play in the first half on a 3-pointer from junior guard Ryan Spadaford and did not let go for the rest of the game.

The bench led the way for Tufts, as Smith, junior tri-captain guard Stephen Haldyna and Pace scored 16, 11 and 10, respectively.

"I think Hamilton was a very good team game," Palleschi said. "The main thing was against their zone we wanted to get ball reversals and we wanted to get at least three passes per possession. We were able to do that and we found their holes, and they had weak spots in the middle so we had guys flashing in the middle and we got them the ball."

The Jumbos also played well defensively, and despite allowing 18 points to junior forward Ajani Santos and 16 points to Lin, they were able to effectively stifle the Continentals' offense.

"They had a little trouble with our zone at first, and then we mixed up it up more and more," Sheldon said. "I think man-to-man we were better than them ... in the end we just ran our stuff and we did what we had to do."

Tufts now sits squarely in the middle of the NESCAC at 5-3 with their last two conference games on the road next weekend against Colby on Friday and Bowdoin on Saturday. The two games will be crucial for playoff seeding as both Colby and Bowdoin sit directly below Tufts in the standings, and if the Jumbos are able to win out next weekend, then seniors Ferris and Zakaria may not have seen their last game in Cousens Gym.