Looking to rebound from a Jan. 28 loss to Middlebury College, Tufts headed into this past weekend looking to improve their chances of hosting a NESCAC tournament game at home. Tasked with defeating two tough teams, Tufts walked away from the weekend 2–0, with a 63–54 win over Colby and a 74–68 win against Bowdoin on Senior Day.
Entering Friday with nearly identical records, both Tufts and Colby were hungry for a win to cement their place among the top four teams in the NESCAC. In what was truly a streaky game, both teams traded blows at one another heading into halftime with Tufts holding onto a 29–27 lead.
“We didn’t play our best basketball in the first half,” senior guard Carson Cohen said. “[We] turned [the ball] over more than we usually do, [and] we were a little discombobulated defensively.”
The Jumbos came out of the locker room looking like a different team in the second half. While Colby opened the half with an 8–2 run, it was Tufts who controlled the rest of the game, with a 13–0 run setting the Jumbos up for victory.
Senior guards Dylan Thoerner and Tyler Aronson led the way for the Jumbos with 24 and 12 points, respectively. First-year forward Scott Gyimesi recorded his first career double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Despite only scoring two points, Cohen contributed in other ways, dishing out eight assists. However, arguably Tufts’ most crucial contributions to the win were a 44–36 rebounding advantage and 36 points in the paint, compared to Colby’s 16.
“Guys have been great stepping in like our freshmen, Josh Bernstein and Scott [Gyimesi],” Thoerner said. “Both coming off the bench … out-toughing everyone and just being more physical, so they’re a good boost and I think it kind of carries on to the rest of the team.”
Fresh off the win over Colby, Tufts was back in action the next day, only this time to also honor the five seniors on the team for Senior Day. Alongside Thoerner, Cohen and Aronson, the Jumbos honored guard Theo Henry and forward Kris Bortz before the game. Head Coach Brandon Linton opted to start all five seniors, giving the group one final opportunity to play on the court together.
“It’s been a crazy four years,” Thoerner said. “So to be able to go out with those five seniors, it’s really special to me.”
The win over the Polar Bears improved the Jumbos’ record to 16–5 overall and 5–3 in the NESCAC while the Polar Bears fell to 10–12 overall and 2–7 in the NESCAC. Despite a sub-.500 record, Bowdoin kept the game close in the first half and even built a 28–21 lead before Tufts fought back to make it a 31–27 game at halftime.
Just like in the game against Colby, Tufts came out of the locker room a completely different team. A 13–2 run midway through the second half saw Tufts take a 60–49 lead before Bowdoin responded with a run of their own to tie the game at 63. Thoerner and Gyimesi hit key free throws down the stretch off a number of key Bowdoin misses to seal a Senior Day win for the Jumbos.
“Some guys made some big shots down the stretch,” Cohen said. “We had some guys make some really big plays defensively.”
In what has been a theme throughout the season, multiple players on the roster have stepped up in moments when it matters most. Gyimesi showed incredible poise through his free throws and Thoerner and Aronson, who once again led the team with 18 and 19 points, respectively, showed their leadership by helping the team keep their composure on the court.
“As the games get down to the wire, guys step up,” Cohen said. “Credit to all the guys who contributed for sticking with what we know and staying with the game plan.”
The pair of wins put the Jumbos in a tie for fourth place in the NESCAC, with Wesleyan also holding a 5–3 conference record. With the top four teams earning the right to host a NESCAC tournament game, the Jumbos know the job is not done yet despite a strong season overall.
“You want to do everything you can to put yourself in a position to play meaningful, impactful games down the stretch at the end of the year,” Cohen said.
Tufts hopes to widen the gap between them and Wesleyan for fourth place when the team travels to Middletown on Friday for a 7 p.m. tip-off. That game will be followed by a visit to Hartford to finish the regular season at Trinity on Saturday at 3 p.m.