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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, March 3, 2024

Tufts falls to Amherst in NESCAC quarterfinals

Sophomore guard Tarik Smith had little room to work with against a tough Amherst defense.

The men’s basketball team entered Saturday’s NESCAC quarterfinal meeting against Amherst as the No. 4 seed and with a 27-point road win in an earlier matchup under its belt. This game would not go as swimmingly for the Jumbos, as the Lord Jeffs shot 56.4 percent from the field in a 92-66 victory at Cousens Gymnasium. The victory sets Amherst on the path to its fourth consecutive NESCAC title.

Junior Connor Green led Amherst in scoring with 29 points on 10-16 shooting. The front-runner for NESCAC Player of the Year made six out of his eight 3-point attempts and paced a 3-point barrage that resulted in a 68.4 3-point percentage. Holes in the Jumbos’ zone defense allowed for the impressive shooting afternoon for the Jeffs.

“Amherst made a lot of tough shots all game so credit to them, but we definitely had a lot of defensive lapses in our zone that allowed open looks for them,” junior tri-captain Stephen Haladyna said.

The rebounding margin was significant as well: Amherst outrebounded Tufts 44-28. Lord Jeffs’ sophomore forward David George corralled a team-high 10 rebounds to go along with his 19 points. George was a nuisance all day for the Jumbos, playing strong interior defense on sophomore tri-captain forward Tom Palleschi and sophomore center Hunter Sabety. On the offensive side, his hard roles to the rim got him trips to the foul line and high percentage shots inside.

Palleschi and Sabety, who came off the bench after missing the past eight games, led the Jumbos in boards with six apiece. Playing with a brace on his injured leg, Sabety looked to be back in form with an array of post moves and dunks, yet his mobility on defense was understandably limited.

“Physically [I] felt well and mentally [I] felt ready to come back,” Sabety said. “Mentally I knew as well as the team did that it was going to be a tough game, and that we all needed to play hard and smart to win it.”

The Lord Jeffs also dished out 21 assists to the Jumbos’ eight, with sophomore guard Reid Berman accounting for a game-high 11.

Berman’s orchestration of the Lord Jeffs’ pick-and-roll offense spread the Jumbos’ zone thin all day. Complementing George with four outside shooters furthered Green’s one-on-one abilities and made it difficult for Tufts to roll out its post-heavy front court that has bullied opponents all season.

The score was tied at 11 after a Palleschi jumper with 15:37 remaining in the first half, but Amherst pulled away with a 14-0 run and never looked back. After Palleschi’s jumper, Amherst would score on all but five of its offensive possessions for the rest of the game. Six Amherst players made a 3-point shot in the first half on its way to a 58.1 percent overall shooting performance and a 53-37 halftime lead. The closest the Jumbos would get for the rest of the game was 16 points, after a layup from first-year forward Ben Engvall at the 13-minute mark. Tufts committed only three turnovers to Amherst’s 14, but that proved to make little difference in the outcome of the game.

“They played very good defense yesterday, but it was more about how our defense couldn’t stop their shooting,” Haladyna said.

It was senior tri-captain Ben Ferris’ final game in a brown and blue uniform, and it is only fitting that he led the team with 14 points. The 2011-2012 NESCAC Rookie of the Year, Ferris has battled injuries his entire career, yet his leadership and willingness to sacrifice personal accolades for the betterment of the team has had a profound impact on the program.

“Ben has been a great leader and he’s led by example every season,” Haladyna said. “He’s been playing through injuries the last couple of seasons, and he has done so much to help the program.”

Tufts ends the season at 13-12 and 6-5 in the NESCAC. Although the team did not make the deep tournament run that it would have liked, it is optimistic about next year, considering everyone will be back with the exception of two seniors, Ferris and guard Adam Zakaria.

“I hate that the season ended so early, but the team is a great group of guys and we made a lot of improvement this season,” Sabety said. “Many people made big steps forward ... and this off-season should be big for us [and give] us an opportunity to get physically stronger and mentally stronger as a team, to come into next season like animals.”