Men’s basketball tops No. 6 Tufts, wins Lopata Classic

Frank Yang | Staff Reporter

The Washington University men’s basketball team won the 34th Lopata Classic, its annual season tip-off tournament, this weekend in convincing fashion, beating Wabash College 82-70 before taking down No. 6 Tufts 98-94. On the way to the win, Wash. U. shot 46.75 percent and led both games almost wire-to-wire.

Wash. U. started off hot against the Little Giants, leaping out to a 15-5 lead with senior guard Kevin Kucera contributing two threes and a mid-range jumper, as well as a steal on the other end. The Bears moved the basketball around nicely, presenting themselves as a dual threat both inside inside the paint and outside the arc, with nearly all of the team contributing to the scoring. Wash. U. started to cool off just as Wabash was starting to catch fire, tearing off a 25-9 run to close out the first half with a 38-31 lead.

Senior forward Andrew Sanders lays the ball in during the Bears’ 98-94 victory over No. 6 Tufts University. The Bears won two games this weekend, against Tufts and Wabash College. Danny Reise | Wustl Photos

Senior forward Andrew Sanders lays the ball in during the Bears’ 98-94 victory over No. 6 Tufts University. The Bears won two games this weekend, against Tufts and Wabash College.

Whatever Coach Mark Edwards said in the locker room at halftime certainly had an effect, as the Red and Green had an explosive start to the second half. Senior Jake Knupp sunk a three to kick things off, and senior center David Schmelter followed it up with a fast break slam. Knupp swished another three to tie the game up at 41, which lead to a massive 13 point lead by the Bears. Following another 17-0 run, Wash. U. took and held the lead, ensuring a first round victory against Wabash.

Wash. U. showed off some offensive firepower against Wabash, moving the ball around very nicely, and finding good, open looks. The Bears shot nearly 40 percent from three, establishing themselves as a lethal three point threat while still maintaining a very respectable game inside the paint. Kucera got off to a hot start, contributing 19 points, 4 rebounds and 9 assists, while freshman Jack Nolan introduced himself to college basketball with a 17 point debut.

Senior guard Kevin Kucera drives the ball against Tufts. Kucera scored 21 points and dished out 10 assists, leading the Red and Green in both categories in the narrow win.Danny Reise | Wustl Photos

Senior guard Kevin Kucera drives the ball against Tufts. Kucera scored 21 points and dished out 10 assists, leading the Red and Green in both categories in the narrow win.

The Red and Green were dominant against the Little Giants, but Tufts—ranked sixth in the nation—promised a different challenge altogether. The Bears rose to the occasion early, and scored 11 unanswered points to start off, with senior forward Andrew Sanders making three tough layups in a row to contribute to this run.

To underscore Wash. U.’s offensive confidence early on, junior Marcus Meyer—who did not shoot a single three-pointer in his first two years on the team—knocked down consecutive shots from distance midway through the half. Buckets by Kucera and senior Matt Highsmith closed out the first half, with Wash. U. leading 47-38.

The Bears’ starting lineup picked up where they left off as the second half began, and a Sanders free throw capped off the early surge and ballooned the lead to 18 with just over ten minutes to play. s

Tufts were ranked sixth for a reason, however, and unlike Friday night, the Bears were unable to pull away. Tufts started to stage a comeback late in the second half, going on a 17-3 run just as it looks like Wash. U. was out of striking distance. Patrick Racy went off for 15 in the half, and guard Eric Savage contributed another 15 in the period.

Savage was a thorn in the side for the Bears the entire game, scoring 21 points, grabbing 16 boards and adding eight assists to round out his near-triple double. He also gave the Bears their last scare of the game, leaning into a contested three that cut the Wash. U. lead to two with just six seconds left. Kucera, however, remained composed at the free-throw line and drained both foul shots to ice the game 98-94.

The Bears’ starting five did most of the damage, and most notably, the trio of Kucera, Highsmith and Sanders combined for 61 points in the game. Kucera had 10 assists in the game and won tournament MVP, averaging 20 points and 9.5 assists per game.

Overall, the men’s basketball team put together a convincing start to to the season by capturing the Lopata Classic. The win against Tufts in the final was a statement of intent from a group that hopes to challenge against other top-ranked teams throughout the rest of the year.

Wash. U. next hits the courts at Principia College on Nov. 21 and does not face ranked opposition again until the end of December, when they play No. 2 Augustana College.