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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, May 25, 2024

Men’s basketball takes a look in the mirror with competitive matchups at Williams and Middlebury

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Tufts men's basketball players are pictured in their 2021 season opener against University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

It was a weekend long-awaited for the Jumbos. It was a weekend of two away games circled on the calendar since the schedule was released. It was a weekend where the squad would not only have two major NESCAC matchups but also matchups against the then No. 10 and No. 5 ranked teams in the country. This weekend was the weekend of tests: Williams and Middlebury. The Tufts squad did not shy away from these tests either, as it had a dominant 71–50 win against Williams and put up a fight against Middlebury before falling 72–56.

On Friday, Tufts took on Williams in Williamstown. It was not long before the team’s hunger presented itself, as the Jumbos battled with the Ephs to end the first half in a gridlocked score at 31. With this same hunger, the Jumbos were able to pull away in the second half, hitting a 14–2 run and never looking back. Throughout the rest of the half, the Jumbos held their lead and ultimately expanded on it to take a dominant 21-point victory.

Greater Philadelphia area natives, sophomore guard Khai Champion and senior guard Theo Henry, led the squad in points with 16 and 15, respectively, and both came off the bench to do so. First-year center Joshua Bernstein also had a strong showing, contributing to the victory with 9 points, three rebounds and a monstrous five blocks. The team’s care for the ball can also be held responsible for the victory, as the squad only had six turnovers on the night and scored 21 points off of opposing turnovers. Henry spoke on the Jumbos’ resilience and how they stepped up at this statement game.

“I think we came into the game really hungry off a disappointing loss against Bates, and we said, ‘We’re going to bring the intensity this game.’ And we did from start to finish,” Henry said. “We moved the ball really well, we were sound defensively, we had a great week of [preparation] heading into the game, and I think all of that together just led to a great night.”

If Tufts continues to play the type of basketball it played against Williams, the Jumbos can play with any team in the entire country.

On Saturday, as the squad traveled from Williamstown to Middlebury, Vt. to try to build momentum with a win against the No. 5 Middlebury Panthers on their senior day, they continued this high level of play in the early minutes of the game. Taking advantage of the Panthers’ modified senior day lineup, the Jumbos started incredibly hot, getting out to a 17–4 lead.

However, as the Panthers adjusted, they responded immediately with a 19–6 run and then followed to build a 5-point lead by the end of the half. It was apparent that the Jumbos were up against stiff competition.

“I think Middlebury is a great team. You punch first against them, they’re going to punch back. We started off shooting the ball really well, but our shots stopped falling, and they really attacked us on the glass, which hurt a lot — they just do all the little things right,” Henry noted. “It’s a great game to learn from. That’s what winning basketball looks like and what it takes to be one of the best teams in the country.”

While the Jumbos fought hard in the second half, the squad’s shooting drought and the impressive Middlebury performance were enough to give the Panthers the 16-point victory. In the loss, sophomore forward Trumann Gettings and Champion led the team with 10 points each, and Gettings and first-year forward Scott Gyimesi led the way on the boards with 6 each. Gyimesi commented on his journey from suffering an ankle injury at the beginning of the season to recovering and making significant contributions to the team.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting myself mentally back. Obviously, it sucks being out physically, but you know, I got myself back as soon as I possibly [could], got myself ready to play, and then whatever comes, comes — it just so happened that minutes opened up,” Gyimesi said.

Gyimesi also noted how crucial it is for the Jumbos to want to get the ball off the boards if they are going to be successful.

“They out-rebounded us by 11; I think 38–27 was the split. I think that’s part of the reason why we lost was that we didn’t rebound the ball that well. But, they have some really tenacious rebounders, and we were doing as much as we could on the glass, but obviously, we could have done a lot more,” Gyimesi noted.

Nonetheless, despite the loss, the Jumbos once again proved that they can hang with any team in the country, a fact that they will need to capitalize on for every game going forward, especially in the postseason. Henry explained how vital discipline, preparation approach and team unity are to being successful down the stretch.

“Every game moving forward is like a playoff game. … It can be anyone’s night, and we’re going to need everyone pulling the rope to really do something big as we head into playoffs,” Henry said.

The Jumbos’ talent this season is undeniable. Coming up, they have a weekend of matchups on their home court. Tufts will play Colby College on Friday and Bowdoin College on Saturday, which is senior day for the Jumbos.