Friday, February 18, 2005

JUMBOS HOST COLBY IN FIRST ROUND OF NESCAC TOURNAMENT

The Jumbos host Colby College Saturday in the first round of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) championship tournament. Tufts is the #2 seed after finishing the conference schedule with a 7-2 record. Colby is the #7 seed after a 4-5 NESCAC season.

This is the second NESCAC tournament game at Cousens Gym for the Jumbos. They hosted Middlebury College in 2003 and won 89-81, advancing to the semi-finals. They lost a tight 64-63 game to eventual national champion Williams College in the NESCAC semis that year.

Besides 2003, the Jumbos have not fared well in the NESCAC tournament. They did not qualify for the inaugural tournament in 2001, they lost 81-57 at Williams in 2002's first round, and they lost 72-57 in the first round at Trinity a year ago.

Colby is making its first appearance in the NESCAC tournament since the first one in 2001. The Mules were the second seed that season and defeated Middlebury in the first round, 54-49, but lost to fourth-seed Amherst in the semi-finals, 61-46. The Mules have failed to qualify for the tournament in each of the last three seasons.

Saturday's game matches the two most improved teams of the year in NESCAC. Tufts was the NESCAC's surprise team this season with its second-place finish. The Jumbos bring a 15-9 overall record into Saturday's contest after finishing 8-17 overall and just 2-7 in NESCAC last season. The Mules are 14-7 overall entering the game after a 6-17 and 2-7 finish a year ago.

These teams opened the NESCAC season against each other back on January 14. Tufts overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half to post a 76-69 victory. Senior tri-captain Reggie Stovell led the Jumbos with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while fellow senior tri-captain Drew Kaklamanos finished with 13 points, including 11 in the second half. Colby was led by 20 points from junior Andrew Jenkins, who connected on all five of his three-point attempts. Senior captain Pat McGowan added 13 points and four assists to the Colby attack.

The series between the teams has been very even since NESCAC went to a round-robin schedule in the 2000-01 season. The Jumbos and Mules have split the last four meetings, with Colby winning 80-65 last season. The last time these squads met in the playoffs, Tufts defeated the Mules, 74-73, in the 2000 ECAC Division III championship game at Waterville, Maine.

Tufts leads the NESCAC in scoring this year with its 82.1 points per game. Stovell is third in the conference entering the weekend with 18.3 points per game. Freshmen Ryan O'Keefe and Jake Weitzen are also among the conference's top 20 with their 11.5 and 11.3 scoring averages, respectively. With 10.9 points per game, sophomore Brian Kumf is the fourth Jumbo scoring in double figures for the season. Turnovers have been the team's weakness offensively, as their 18.5 per game is the most in the conference by far.

Sophomore point guard David Shepherd leads NESCAC with 6.6 assists per game, including four games with 10 or more. Weitzen's .567 field goal percentage is fourth in NESCAC, including a .433 three-point shooting mark this is second.

The Jumbos have also been one of the better rebounding teams in the league this season with a +9.1 margin over its opponents. Stovell's 10.1 boards per game lead NESCAC while junior Dan Martin (6.7 rpg) and Kumf (6.1 rpg) are key contributors. Tufts is the only team in NESCAC with more than 1,000 rebounds (1,126).

Though the Jumbos are last in NESCAC allowing 79.5 points per game, they are third in field goal percentage defense at .409. The 169 three-point field goals they have allowed is the most in NESCAC.

Colby is in the middle of the NESCAC pack with its 75.3 points per game. They do have two of the league's top 10 scorers in Drew Cohen (16.2 ppg) and McGowan (15.7 ppg). Cohen's impressive .613 field goal percentage is second and his .770 free throw mark is fifth. McGowan's 54 three-pointers are the most in the conference.

Defensively, Colby allows 66.9 points per game to rank fourth in the league. They are atop NESCAC with a .396 field goal percentage defense and they defend the three-pointer (.307) better than anyone except Amherst. Their 9.0 steals per game is also second-best. McGowan is second individually with 2.43 steals per game. Cohen's 3.0 blocked shots per game is the NESCAC's best.

The Mules are the weakest rebounding team in the conference, allowing 2.4 more per game to their opponents. Cohen's 7.4 per game lead the squad.

Saturday's winner moves on to the semi-finals at the site of the highest remaining seed next Saturday (Feb. 26). Williams, the sixth seed in this year's tourney, is the two-time defending conference champion. Amherst won the previous two conference titles in 2001 and 2002. The Lord Jeffs, 22-1 overall and 9-0 in NESCAC this year, are the only conference team ranked nationally at #4 in the D3Hoops.com poll.

Middlebury College and Connecticut College did not qualify for the NESCAC tournament this season.

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