|Stephen Haladyna had a great first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, averaging 21.0 points per game.
Tufts athletics photo
By Matthew Noonan
It may sound cliché, but Tufts men’s basketball coach Bob Sheldon claims ‘team chemistry’ is the reason the Jumbos are two wins away from advancing to the Salem Civic Center.
This past weekend, team chemistry was the key for the men dressed in Powder Blue, White and Brown as they relied on it to get past Southern Vermont and Skidmore in the first and second rounds, respectively.
Yet, the main ingredient to this so-called ‘team chemistry’ Sheldon speaks of is the unit’s three seniors.
“My three seniors are just phenomenal,” Sheldon said of Ryan Spadaford, Stephen Haladyna and Zach Roswold.
“They chirp a lot, talk a lot of smack to the other team and in practice it is crazy, but everyone knows it is just fun.”
Sheldon truly believes his three seniors are the catalyst behind an exciting run that helped Tufts return to the ‘Sweet 16’ for the first time in a decade. In the team’s most recent appearance in the third round of the Division III NCAA Tournament - March 2006 - Tufts fell to New England Small College Athletic Conference foe Amherst in overtime.
Said Sheldon, “I am just so happy that my seniors stuck with it after going 13-12 and 13-12. They got what it took and they did what they needed to do to make us have the chemistry we have (displayed thus far).”
Team chemistry came in handy prior to last weekend’s contests. It was on display during a pair of overtime wins against Babson and Pine Manor, as well as when the Jumbos defeated Whitman and Cal Lutheran in California. Of course, it also assisted the Jumbos in other situations, including practices and close games.
They will once again rely on their ‘team chemistry’ come this Friday when they host Johnson & Wales with tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“I think it is going to be a great game to be at,” said Sheldon. “I expect it to be in the 80’s and 90’s.
“(As far as preparation goes), we’re going to do what we do, we are going to tweak some things and try to slow them down, but we’re going to run with them.”
Tufts and Johnson & Wales did not meet this season, but commenced their respective 2014-15 campaigns last November with the Wildcats claimed a 74-52 victory. Current senior Quarry Greenaway eclipsed the 1,000-point mark during the contest, becoming the second fastest player in Wildcats history to accomplish the feat.
Johnson & Wales earned a trip to Medford following back-to-back wins against Trinity (Conn.) and Fitchburg State last weekend at Plattsburgh State.
“I think playing Southern Vermont and Skidmore last weekend helped us get ready for Johnson & Wales on Friday,” said Sheldon.
Friday promises to be an exciting contest between the Jumbos and Wildcats, but once again, Tufts will need to lean on its ‘team chemistry,’ along with the three seniors to extend the season to Saturday – and hopefully, the semifinals and finals.
Yet, what is also helping Tufts remain focused on their goal of winning a championship is the eagerness to practice. Sheldon’s squad loves to practice and they will get a few more sessions in before Friday’s game.
“Usually at this time of the season you want a shortened practice because you are a little bit tired, both physically and mentally, but we want to go. We want to practice and we’re excited,” said Sheldon. “It is great being around them and it is great to go to work.”
Middlebury’s run comes up short
After concluding the regular season with a pair of setbacks, the Middlebury College men’s basketball team knew their only way to extend their campaign was to win the NESCAC tournament.
The road to the program’s third tournament crown – their most recent since the 2010-11 school year – went through Amherst and Trinity, but the challenging task did not phase coach Jeff Brown’s squad as the Panthers defeated both units, along with Wesleyan in the opening round to secure a spot in the Division III NCAA Tournament.
“We were well aware that a loss was going to end our season, so our guys just really hung tough,” said Brown. “We got a couple breaks at the end of the Amherst game and we were able to win a championship.”
The game against Amherst – perhaps a contest some will consider one for the ages – featured 23 lead changes and 10 ties. Neither team held more than a three-point advantage following the 18:50 mark of the second half before a pair of late free throws by Matt St. Amour pushed the visitors ahead for good.
Following their dramatic victory against Amherst, Middlebury edged Salisbury in the opening round by a score of 75-73, but fell to Keene State the following evening.
“I was proud of our effort on Saturday,” said Brown. “Keene State had us on our heels for most of the game. They were tenacious on defense, but our guys were so tough and gritty, especially during the final three minutes.”
Middlebury might not have appeared destined for the ‘big dance’ after a 5-5 start, but a late first semester win against Plattsburgh seemed to boost the squad’s confidence heading into the final few weeks.
“I am very pleased with the past season,” said Brown. “We were 7-7 at one point, but we were able to have a great run in the NESCAC Tournament. In addition, only nine of our 29 games this season were played in Pepin Gymnasium, so we were truly road warriors.”
Middlebury graduates a trio of seniors, including Matt Daley, but does return St. Amour, Jake Brown and Zach Baines.