Men’s basketball seeks playoff upset at Williams

HALFTIME UPDATE (3:51 p.m.): Tufts 32, Williams 31

The Jumbos are halfway to a huge upset. They played great team defense to limit the Ephs to 31 points and hit enough shots to carry a one-point lead into the locker room.

Freshman center Hunter Sabety had 12 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in the half. He had three dunks, including one on an alley-oop from senior tri-captain point guard Oliver Cohen that gave the Jumbos their most recent lead. It will be interesting to see how Williams adjusts its strategy against Sabety in the second half.

Sophomore guard Stephen Haladyna and junior guard Ben Ferris have 9 and 8 points, respectively.

Williams’ big man, senior center Michael Mayer, is giving the Jumbos some trouble in the paint. He has a team-high 9 points.

So far, the Jumbos (13-11) and Ephs (21-3) look more evenly matched than their records suggest. Tufts shot 48 percent in the first 20 minutes and will need to keep hitting jump shots to keep pace down the stretch.

Follow along on Twitter in the second half @TuftsDailySport. Watch live at http://nsnsports.net/colleges/williams-college/. For live stats, go to http://livestats.prestosports.com/williams/mbkb/?e=b4yapn3qrk1c5unb.

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On the front of the Jumbos’ preparation packet for today’s first-round playoff game at Williams are three words: “One Acceptable Outcome.” Tufts, the No. 7 seed in the NESCAC tournament, may be the heavy underdog against No. 2-seeded Williams, ranked No. 9 nationally by D3hoops.com. But make no mistake: the Jumbos are playing to win.

Tufts barely snuck into the postseason last weekend with a pair of wins against Colby and Bowdoin. For about an hour after the second win, the Jumbos didn’t even realize they had clinched a spot. But with their backs against the wall, they played their best basketball of the season and knocked off a Polar Bears squad that entered the game at 19-4 overall.

Can Tufts pull off an even bigger upset today? Standing in the Jumbos’ way is a team that beat them 93-70 on Feb. 8, when the Ephs dominated the first half and never looked back. This time, the Jumbos will do everything they can to stay in the game early. Defense will be the key.

Down low, Tufts will focus on limiting 6-foot-9 senior center Michael Mayer and 6-foot-7 freshman forward Duncan Robinson. Mayer had 10 rebounds and 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting and made 7 of 10 free throws the last time the two teams met. Robinson had 25 points on 9 of 12 shooting, included 3-of-6 on 3-pointers. To slow the big men down, the Jumbos will need to put bodies on them without getting into foul trouble. Senior tri-captain forward Andrew Dowton and freshman forward Drew Madsen will have to help out freshman center Hunter Sabety, Tufts’ leading scorer at 14.5 points per game. Early fouls for Sabety could spell trouble for the Jumbos.

At the same time, the Jumbos will have to tightly guard the 3-point line. Williams boasts several deadly long-range shooters, including Robinson, freshman forward Taylor Epley and sophomore guard Hayden Rooke-Ley. There’s a reason the Ephs are riding an eight-game winning streak: they have tons of offensive weapons, namely five players who average 12-plus points.

Last Sunday against Bowdoin, Tufts put together an inspired defensive effort, something that has evaded the Jumbos for much of the season. That performance was without junior spark-plug Ben Ferris, who was sidelined with a knee injury. Ferris is in uniform today and could make a big impact on both ends of the floor.

Offensively, Tufts will look for continued hot shooting from sophomore guard Stephen Haladyna, who matched a career high with 23 points against Bowdoin. The Jumbos also need strong inside presence from Sabety in his first NESCAC playoff game.

Tufts reached the NESCAC semifinals last year by defeating Bowdoin in the first round. The Ephs lost in the NESCAC championship game by one point to Amherst last year. Their last league title came in 2010.

Tip-off today is at 3 p.m. Watch live at http://nsnsports.net/colleges/williams-college/.

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