Big men prove the difference

On the biggest stage of their basketball careers, the big men of the men’s basketball team came up big-time.

In Yale’s 70-69 overtime victory over Manhattan Saturday, the Bulldogs’ frontcourt — in particular, Mark Lovett ’05, Matt Minoff ’04, and T.J. McHugh ’03 — looked right at home at Madison Square Garden, the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Famous Arena.”

Lovett, Minoff and McHugh keyed a furious rally with 6:13 left in the second half and Yale down 52-45, the largest Manhattan lead of the game. By the time McHugh hit the game-winning layup with 6.7 seconds left in overtime, the trio had combined for 22 of the Elis’ final 27 points.

The Bulldogs’ strong play in the post opened up opportunities on the perimeter. On one key possession, Manhattan attention down low freed Lovett — who has quickly become the team’s spark off the bench — for a pivotal 3-pointer to begin the extra session.

“When you penetrate and kick it and get open looks at it, you’re going to shoot 45 to 50 percent from outside the arc, and that’s what we’ve been doing all year when we get those chances,” head coach James Jones said.

Manhattan head coach Bobby Gonzalez said he had known what to expect from the Elis, but his team was helpless in stopping shots like Lovett’s because of Yale’s strong post play.

“The deal with Yale is we have to double the post because we are small or we go zone,” Gonzalez said. “It’s tough to go zone against a team that goes 48 percent from the three — they split it out on double teams, and they know who’s open, and they reverse it, and they get a wide open shot.”

Incited by Minoff, the Bulldog big men also delivered a dominating defensive performance down the stretch.

In one four-minute sequence, the 6-foot-6-inch Minoff rejected shots by three of the Jaspers’ top four scorers. He finished with four blocks to go with eight points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.

But despite his contributions, Minoff nearly gave the game away when he threw an errant pass into the hands of Manhattan forward Mike Konovelchick with one minute remaining in overtime. Konovelchick sped downcourt for a layup and was fouled, giving him a chance to tie the game with a three-point play. Fortunately for Minoff and the Bulldogs, Konovelchick missed the free throw.

But like so many basketball greats have done at the Garden, when the game was on the line, Minoff and McHugh took control.

Minoff’s free throws became the difference between an overtime victory and a two-point, regulation loss. Minoff also connected on both ends of a one-and-one free-throw situation three minutes earlier. Minoff is shooting 90 percent from the line this season.

McHugh, meanwhile, scored 13 of his 15 points after the game’s 30-minute mark, including the game-winner.

“I just drew my man and [Alex Gamboa '05] just bounced me the ball to take a wide open layup,” McHugh said of the final scoring play.

McHugh also drew a charge on the final play of overtime, sealing the game for the Bulldogs. Because of his clutch play, McHugh was named Ivy League Player of the Week Monday.

“T.J. [McHugh] had a gutsy performance,” Jones said. “He stepped up and gave his body for the team.”

It will take more outstanding play by the Yale frontcourt if the Bulldogs are to triumph in Ivy League competition. The University of Pennsylvania, which kept Yale from reaching the NCAA Tournament last season, boasts a frontcourt with two NBA prospects: 6-foot-8-inch forwards Koko Archibong ’03 and Ugonna Onyekwe ’03.

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