Tufts men’s basketball stayed close to home this weekend, taking on UMass Boston at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Black Coaches Classic. Walking into the game, the Jumbos were 4–0 and looking to maintain their undefeated streak. Meanwhile, the UMass Beacons were 1–3 and on a two-game losing streak.
This season, Tufts basketball has taken down Endicott, Emerson, Suffolk and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in big point wins.
The game against the Beacons started as a close game, with UMass being able to hold its deficit to 10 or fewer points throughout much of the first half.
“I thought we started off slow and then we’ve been starting off slow over the past few games,” sophomore guard James Morakis said. This has certainly proven true, as Tufts only led by three against Endicott at halftime, by five against Suffolk and tied with Emerson. This could be due to the roster turnover this year.
“[It is] a really new group this year. I mean, you have three sophomores starting,” Morakis said. “We’re still gelling, still learning how to play together, but game by game we’re starting off better.”
The MIT game proved the Jumbos were starting to get better in the first half, with the Jumbos leading by nine at half. Morakis had a good day on Saturday, starting and playing 18 minutes, putting up 10 points and five rebounds along with two steals.
Sophomore forward Scott Gyimesi recognized the team is improving but the game management still needs work.
“We’re still trying to pick up the first half slack, because you can’t really afford that against the really good teams,” Gyimesi said.
In the last six minutes of the first half, Tufts went on a 12–5 run to take a 14-point lead going into halftime. The run featured six points from Gyimesi along with two steals. He played 22 minutes, went 8–11 on field goals and had 16 points. The score at half was 36–22 in favor of Tufts.
The second half was for the Jumbos to take. Tufts held UMass to just 19 points, while simultaneously forcing 11 turnovers in the second section of play. The Jumbos themselves scored 47 points. Shutting down junior guard Emanuel Zayas and senior guard Bobby Joy, the leading scorers of the Beacons, was critical to winning on the day, and both of them were contained by the Jumbos. Zayas has averaged 19 points a game, but against the Jumbos was allowed only four. Joy had none. It was UMass Boston junior forward Ish Fofana who led the team on Saturday, scoring 13 points in the 24 minutes he played. He also stole the ball from Jumbos on five separate occasions, marking the most steals by a Beacon in any game this season. This loss deepens the asymmetry of the historical record between the two schools, amounting to only 10 wins for UMass Boston compared to 37 wins by Tufts.
These pre-league games are especially critical to the Jumbo squad, who last season started three seniors in their final game.
“[These are] games where we can get our roles in place, because we lost a few guys from last year ... five seniors that were a huge part of our program,” Gyimesi said.
While the first five teams the Jumbos took on have been ‘easier’ games, the next five will certainly not be.
“We have a big five game stretch ahead of us to finish out the semester, a lot of tough teams compared to the first five teams we played based on the national rankings,” Gyimesi said. This sets the squad up well for NESCAC play.
“Then we move into the more difficult part of our conference schedule,” Gyimesi continued. “That transitions really well into the NESCAC because NESCAC play is just a war for basketball. Every game could go either way.”
On Tuesday, Tufts took on Worcester Polytechnic Institute away in Worcester, Mass. Similar to the Jumbos, the Engineers looked to maintain their undefeated season, but it was Tufts that came away with the 67–58 win.
Tufts will host Clark University on Thursday at 7 p.m.