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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

2 conference losses for men's basketball put NESCAC chances at risk

Sophomore guard Justin Kouyoumdjian drives to the hoop during Tufts' 75-71 win over Wesleyan on Jan. 26.

The men’s basketball team suffered two defeats this weekend and move to 4–5 but remain in sixth place in the NESCAC. The No. 23 Amherst Mammoths caught the Jumbos off guard in a 85–55 blowout on Friday. Junior captain Eric Savage matched a career-high 27 points in the loss.

On Saturday, No. 11  Hamilton frustrated Tufts in a last minute victory, winning 87–83. After a fairly even-paced start, the Jumbos pulled ahead to a 21–12 lead that they maintained through the half. The Jumbos shot perfectly from the free throw line while Hamilton shot 6–11. Tufts shot 42.9 percent from the field, which helped bring them to a 46-37 lead to enter halftime. Sophomore center Luke Rogers was responsible for 14 of the Jumbos' first-half points, and sophomore guard Justin Kouyoumdjian followed up closely with a 10-point effort.

The second half exposed Tufts’ weakness in defending the paint: The Jumbos went 2–11 from downtown while the Continentals shot 50 percent from the field and went 13–19 from the free-throw line. Savage attributed the struggle with defense on the inside to an over-focus on the perimeter.

"We played two teams with really good guard play this weekend," Savage said. "So we were really focused on stopping them on the perimeter. I thought our guards, primarily Justin [Kouyoumdjian], Tyler [Aronson] and Will [Brady] did a great job ascending the role. The problem is, when we're so focused on a guard, it leaves the big open when our big goes to help. We have to work on our weak-side rotations."

Hamilton took its first lead with only 4:16 remaining in the game, but Tufts battled on, with a 3-point jump shot from Kouyoumdjian putting the team ahead by a point with under a minute left. The Jumbos had possession with 29 seconds left, but were called for a travel and lost the vital opportunity to extend their lead. Ultimately, a layup and three consecutive free throws made by the Continentals put the game just out of reach in the final seconds.

“I've never really, in my 31 years, blamed the referees for a game,” coach Bob Sheldon said. “I'm not blaming them for the loss, but I'm blaming them for the chance for us to win. We had the ball at 29 seconds and they called a travel. And so, they got the ball and we had to foul which put us down three and then we missed a shot. So, it wasn't like we didn't have a chance, it's just that they [the referees] took a really good chance away from us."

The previous evening, the Jumbos were held to their lowest point score and widest loss margin of the season against the Mammoths. Amherst opened the game by scoring nine unanswered points before Savage made a 2-point layup, and by the end of the first half they had nearly doubled the Jumbos' score at 44–26.

Typically solid shooters from the Jumbos, first-year guard Tyler Aronson and sophomore guard Brennan Morris, both went 1–6 in the first half, with the only reprieve coming from Savage in a 4–9 performance. Neither team performed well from behind the 3-point line, but Amherst dominated the paint where it put up 50 points compared to Tufts' 21. Sheldon says that the team has been focusing on its defensive rotations in the last few weeks.

“Even though teams are scoring a lot, one of the reasons that they've been scoring a lot on us is that we take quick shots and we want to up-tempo the game so we can get in more chances,” he said. “It's not that our defensive percentage is so bad, it's just that they get a lot of chances. So, we're working on that, hopefully that'll help things."

Amherst boasted five players, including two off the bench, who scored double digits in the 85–55 win, while the only Tufts player to manage over nine points was Savage. In doing so, Savage proved just why he was named captain.

“We try to get [Savage] involved a lot,” Sheldon said. “He's been around and he knows the system and stuff. We want him to be a leader but we don't run a lot of stuff for anybody, it's just we're really moving the ball around and these guys are good enough to know that if somebody gets hot, we give them the ball.”

Savage commented on his scoring effort, noting that it was a matter of circumstance.

"We came out a little flat against Amherst," Savage said. "So the weight of scoring and doing the little things kind of fell on my shoulders. "I tried to take good looks; I got to the rim a lot. I got fouled a ton, probably way more than I got credit for. But I got to the line a bunch and that's a lot of free points I was able to capitalize on."

With two games left in the regular season, the Jumbos will need to put up strong performances to have the chance to contend in the NESCAC and NCAA tournaments. A win against the Trinity Bantams secures the Jumbos a top-eight NESCAC finish, high enough for the conference tournament. A loss could mean that the team falls to ninth in the conference. The Bantams (14–7, 3–4 NESCAC), who sit just below the Jumbos in seventh place, are sure to put up a good fight.

"It's everything," Savage said of the upcoming matchup. "Literally everything is on the Trinity game now. We've backed ourselves into a corner a little bit. Hopefully we're up to the task. We've been preparing all year for a game like this."

The barn burner between the Jumbos and Bantams tips off at 2 p.m. on Sunday.