MEDFORD, MA—The Tufts University Jumbos (19-5, 8-2) finished the regular season in style, defeating the Williams College Ephs (16-7, 4-5) 93-68 and clinching the NESCAC regular season crown and concomitant #1 seed in the league tournament. Shooting struggles for the Ephs allowed Tufts to build a substantial lead before halftime, and a burst of offensive firepower in the second half from the Jumbos held off Williams to finish the game with a 25-point margin.
Both teams got off to a somewhat lethargic start, as they combined for just 15 points in the first five minutes of play. Tufts asserted a slim lead during this period, largely thanks to early three-pointers by Tarik Smith and Vincent Pace. Both Williams and Tufts seemed to shake off their rust as the game progressed, combining for 25 points in less than four minutes in the middle of the half. Williams kept with Tufts during this burst of offense, holding the Jumbo lead to the mid-single digits.
However, the Ephs seriously struggled from three-point in the first half, shooting 1-9 with that one success coming in the final minute of the half. These woes, combined with a 9-2 turnover ratio in Tufts' favor, made it very difficult for Williams to surmount their early deficit.
Around the seven-minute mark, the Jumbos lurched ahead to a ten-point lead behind a Ben Engvall trey and a pair of foul shots by Everett Dayton, but Williams looked to answer with a run of their own featuring a baseline drive by Bobby Casey and a beautiful cut to the basket by Kyle Scadlock. K.J. Garrett cut the Eph streak short, however, with a big three-pointer to reassert a 31-23 lead for the Jumbos with 5:48 to play.
Tufts benefitted not only from good shooting in the first period, making 57.1% of their shots, but also a plethora of time at the charity stripe: the Jumbos attempted 12 free throws, of which they made nine, compared to just three attempts for Williams.
After the game, Williams head coach Kevin App characterized the first half thus: "Tufts really came out with a lot of energy, and we just didn't come out of the gate with that focus and energy that we needed to, especially in a game on the road."
Williams initially appeared to have remedied their shooting issues in the second half, scoring 13 points in the first five minutes and making three of their first six long-distance attempts. Tufts, however, also came out hot from the field and ceded no ground to the Ephs. Leading 60-41 with 14:20 to play, the Jumbos then disrupted this tentative equilibrium, however, with a truly remarkable run from three-point. Tufts hit seven of their next eight attempts from behind the arc, with Eric Savage racking up five treys in the middle seven minutes of the half.
While Williams did continue to score during this veritable storm of three-pointers—Kyle Scadlock punctuated these repeated three-pointers with seven straight points of his own and Bobby Casey answered Savage with a three of his own—the Ephs could not withstand that kind of offensive onslaught, finding themselves trailing by thirty-two points after Savage's fifth three with around six minutes to play.
The margin wavered insignificantly from around this thirty-point mark, and both teams eventually gave their reserves some minutes as the game wound down. Williams ended the game with back-to-back three-pointers by Mickey Babek and James Heskett, cutting the final score to 93-68 in Tufts' favor.
Williams largely recovered from their disappointing first-half shooting performance and finished the game having made a respectable 48.2% of their shots and 32% of three-point attempts. Tufts, meanwhile, shot 52.4% from the field and an excellent 50% (18-36) from long range.
Eric Savage led all scorers with 17 points for the Jumbos, almost entirely due to his monster performance from three-point in the second half, while K.J. Garrett (5-6, 3-3) and Tarik Smith (5-8, 3-5) both registered solid, 15-point games. Vincent Pace led the team in rebounds with nine.
Williams will finish up the regular season on Sunday at Bates (15-8, 4-5), the outcome of which game will have major impacts on which teams make the NESCAC tournament.
Asked about the team's mindset going into the final regular season game, Coach App was equanimous: "It's the same as it was going into the first game of the regular season. This is our next opportunity, and we have to put this game behind us and come out and play just like it's still November."