#6 Williams (18-7, 5-5) at #1 Tufts (20-5, 8-2), Saturday, February 25, 2:00 PM, Medford, Massachusetts
Though they made it to this weekend last year, Tufts once again has a chance to win their first NESCAC Championship this weekend. The difference is that Tufts is hosting the remainder of the tournament this year, something the Jumbos have never done before. Just a couple weeks ago, Tufts hosted the Ephs in the very same Cousens Gymnasium that tomorrow’s game will be played in. As a Jumbos superfan, I can proudly say that Tufts smacked Williams in that game, but that does not mean Saturday’s matchup will be a rout. Honestly, I see this game going down to the wire, especially after watching Dan Aronowitz ‘17 and Kyle Scadlock ‘19 step up the way they did against their rivals. I am anticipating similar performances out of these two studs, and NESCAC hoops fans should be prepared for a barn burner out of the first game of the doubleheader.
Last Time They Met:
As mentioned above, the February 10th matchup between these two squads was not very close. Tufts walked away with a 93-68 victory catalyzed by their 18 three-pointers. With a silent first half, Eric Savage ‘20 came out of the locker room as a different beast in the second half, dropping 17 in 12 minutes of action. Now that sounds pretty good, but until you realize how he scored those 17 points, it’s just that – good. From the 12:06 mark to 6:42 left in the game, Savage knocked down five straight threes. He finally showed the crowd that he is a mere mortal on his next attempt, but that ~5 ½ minute stretch pretty much sums up the entire game. Tufts couldn’t miss from three. Meanwhile, Williams struggled from deep, much more than the box score shows at least. Sure, they ended up 8-25 from beyond the arc, but seven of those makes came in the second half when playing out the rest of the game was simply a formality. The Ephs were 1-9 from three in the first half, clearly missing Cole Teal ‘18, who sat out with some sort of illness. Tufts never trailed or allowed Williams to tie the game up after the first basket of the game, proving their pure dominance on that day.
Tufts played Williams in their last game of the 2015-2016 regular season just like they did this year, only to face them again a week later in the NESCAC quarterfinals. In game one at Williams, Tufts escaped with a gritty four point victory on the backs of Tom Palleschi ‘17 and Stephen Haladyna ‘16 despite a valiant effort out of Aronowitz. The playoff game the following weekend featured a much more balanced Tufts attack, with four of the five starters scoring in double-digits. Aronowitz did all he could, dropping 32 while just one of his teammates reached the double-digit mark, but at the end of the day, Tufts was too much, and they once again walk away with a victory, this time by six points. The two games featured much of the same type of strategy, but differed in who produced. If history has any bearing on tomorrow’s game, we will likely see similar strategy to their first meeting of the season, i.e. attempts by both teams to prove their dominance behind the three-point line, a lot of halfcourt offense and a much more conscious effort to share the wealth offensively by Tufts than Williams.
Williams X-Factor: Forward Kyle Scadlock ‘19
Last time these two played, I predicted that Cole Teal would be the x-factor and he didn’t step on the court, so I could be very, very off on this prediction. However, Scadlock has been playing some of his best basketball recently, and he is a big reason why Amherst was able to pull off the upset against Amherst last weekend. 14 of Scadlock’s 16 points came in the second half last Saturday, including a 7-0 run by the sophomore himself that gave the Ephs a nine point lead. Williams never looked back after Scadlock’s two minute stretch of dominance, and his emphatic dunk with nine seconds left capped off a well-deserved Williams victory. Against the Jumbos, the forward played pretty well, scoring 15 on 7-10 shooting, and with the post presence of the host team laden with injuries, a strong performance from Scadlock could be the difference. Not only can Scadlock take advantage of a size advantage on offense, but his success doing so will force the Jumbos to sag in to help, leaving shooters open on the perimeter. Aronowitz cannot shoulder the entire load in this game, so Scadlock needs to step up unlike his performance in the playoff matchup between these two sides last year.
Tufts X-Factor: Guard Ben Engvall ‘18
What’s one word I would use to describe Ben Engvall? Tough. The kid does not back down on the court, and that is going to be key against Williams. With Madsen banging around with a mix of Williams centers on the boards, Engvall is likely going to be tasked with keeping Scadlock in check. If he can keep Scadlock off the boards and force him into tough shots on the offensive end, Tufts will be in very good shape. Offensively, Engvall thrives off of fastbreak buckets, especially after an opposing team basket. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard necessarily, but these transition hoops are momentum plays, especially when he can turn them into and-one opportunities (which he does quite often). In the halfcourt offense, Engvall is a bit more limited. He is a good shooter that has shown the ability to knock down big shots, and when defenders close out poorly on him, the junior can get to the hoop. If Engvall can put up his standard 8-12 points, grab 5-6 boards and give Scadlock a hard time, Tufts should be golden.
Will Dan Aronowitz go off?
I’m leaning towards yes. Aronowitz is a senior captain and Williams needs to win this tournament if they want to make an NCAA appearance. He showed last weekend that he means business, and the last time he played a playoff game in Cousens he put on a clinic. The reason I’m only leaning and not taking a stronger stance on this question is due to matchups. Tufts switches everything amongst their four non-post players, which makes it difficult to get open for opposing players. When Aronowitz does find the ball (which he inevitably will), he will likely see a combination of Vinny Pace ‘18, KJ Garrett ‘18 (assuming Pat Racy ‘20 is back and healthy), Everett Dayton ‘18 and Eric Savage. The length of all these guys, especially Pace and Dayton, is an issue, and the athleticism between the latter three guys will present problem for Aronowitz. Still, Aronowitz is one of the best players in the conference. I don’t think he’ll shrink in the bright lights of his biggest game since he became ‘the guy’ for the Ephs.
Will Tufts get a crowd?
As I mentioned before last weekend’s game versus Hamilton, the Tufts crowd is inconsistent at best. Despite the quarterfinal game being the slowest, most boring conference game that I have watched since I arrived at Tufts, it was still disappointing that the Tufts student population couldn’t bring forth a better effort for their Jumbos in the playoffs. The reason this question matters, however, is because at times, the Tufts crowd can be a huge factor. When Tufts faced Williams in the quarterfinals last year, for example, the crowd was completely into it. Every time Bobby Casey ‘19 touched the ball, “BOBBBBBY, BOBBBBBY, BOBBBBBY,” echoed through Cousens. I’m not saying the chanting did or did not affect Casey, but he was 3-9 from the field with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 turnovers. You tell me. In any event, the crowd only increased in size throughout the Tufts NCAA tournament run last season, and I have a feeling that the thirst to be part of a championship run could bring the Jumbo faithful down to Cousens on Saturday.
Will Tufts have more than one big man?
Honestly, I’m not sure, but it matters one way or the other. Drew Madsen does not demand the ball offensively like Palleschi or even Racy. Madsen gets his points more primarily off drive and dish plays or put backs. This means the Tufts offense is much more reliant on its wing players, but the important thing to remember is that the ‘Bos have spread the ball around very evenly when they’ve been successful. While it’d obviously be great to have Racy and Palleschi back, the Jumbos are in fine shape with just Madsen, it just changes the strategy a bit. Instead of pounding the ball into the post, Tufts will rely more heavily on pick and rolls and drive and kick plays. If they shoot like they did last time Williams visited Medford, the Jumbos have nothing to fear, but I don’t quite seeing them hit 18 three-pointers. The one-post lineup worked against Williams last time – will it work again?
Overall, I simply believe that Tufts has too many weapons for the Ephs. Every guard in the lineup has a different skillset, which equally as unique as it is deadly. I know that Williams is hot right now, and I’m not counting them out, but Tufts is the better team, and at home I don’t think they will flop like Amherst did.
Writer’s Pick: Tufts