Saturday night’s Dartmouth contest at the John J. Lee Amphitheater — “Senior Night” for the Yale men’s basketball team — started by recognizing the achievements of head coach James Jones’ first recruiting class from four years ago. But the game itself gave fans an opportunity to see what the future holds for Eli hoops.
Center Dexter Upshaw ’06 and point guard Alex Gamboa ’05 led Yale (11-14, 6-6 Ivy) in a come-from-behind victory over Dartmouth (3-23, 1-11). After spending most of the first half trailing a team that they had beaten by 38 points just two weeks earlier, the Elis took the lead for good with just under 10 minutes remaining.
Friday night’s contest against Harvard (4-21, 3-9) gave the Bulldogs a chance to atone for their disappointing loss in Cambridge two weeks prior. It took Yale almost 13 minutes to get their first lead of the game, but a seven-point outburst from guard Casey Hughes ’07 in the span of two minutes gave the Elis the momentum they needed. Yale took a 13-point edge into the half and Harvard got within single digits only once more the rest of the way.
Despite sweeping the weekend, Jones was not thrilled with the team’s play after the Dartmouth game.
“[It]’s not the way you want to go out [in the seniors’ last home game],” he said. “Sometimes you play down to the competition and we did tonight.”
Upshaw was the undeniable bright spot for the Elis Saturday night. Jones has been giving the center increasing minutes in his backup role to Dominick Martin ’05 and Justin Simon ’04.
“I felt like [Upshaw] deserved an opportunity,” Jones said. “The other guys [Martin and Simon] weren’t giving us much. Make no bones about it, he won this game for us.”
Down nine points with seconds remaining in the first-half, Upshaw hit a buzzer-beating 3-point basket. It was his first attempt of the season from downtown.
“I’ve always been told not to take 3-point shots,” Upshaw said. “That’s my strategy — don’t shoot a lot of them, but make them when I do.”
Jones has often described Upshaw as the hardest-working player on the Yale squad.
“If we had 15 guys playing as hard as [Upshaw] does, we’d be hard pressed to lose a basketball game,” Jones said. “He just does everything you would ask a player to do.”
While Upshaw’s offensive play may have been unexpected, Gamboa continued business as usual with a 15 point outing while turning the ball over once. Five of his 15 came with less than 1:30 to go in the game.
“Alex [Gamboa] has a knack for hitting big shots,” Jones said.
Paul Vitelli ’04 finished his last home-game with seven points and seven rebounds. Guard Scott Gaffield ’04 and forward Sam Kaplan ’07 both had six points.
The Friday night game against the Crimson also gave the Eli faithful a glimpse into the future as Hughes connected on four-of-five for 10 points, including a thunderous fast-break dunk that drew gasps from the crowd. But it was a while before the crowd had anything to cheer about.
“The beginning of the game was horrible,” guard Edwin Draughan ’05 said. “[Harvard] scored literally every time down and that definitely wasn’t going to cut it. Coach [Jones] brought in some youth with [Hughes] and that fired us up.”
Draughan led all scorers with 17 points on seven-of-10 from the field. He also had three steals and five assists. Backcourt teammate Gamboa dished out seven assists, led Yale with six rebounds, and stole the ball four times from the injury-depleted Cantab guards.
“[The Cantabs] were without their point guard [Michael Beal],” Jones said. “Their offense struggled a little bit and we were able to get out in transition. We forced them to take perimeter jump shots instead of getting the ball in the lane.”
Martin scored 13 points and had five rebounds in only 19 minutes.
“As soon as I get [Martin] to play like a bat out of hell every game, he’ll be the best player in the country,” Jones said. “Did he even break a sweat tonight? There’s never been a guy who put on a Yale uniform who could score on the block like [Martin]. He’s the best.”
Kaplan started for Vitelli, who had a pulled muscle in his back. Vitelli had six points and three rebounds in limited minutes.
Yale seniors have only two more games — at Cornell and Columbia — in their collegiate careers. Though this season will not end in a postseason tournament, as the team had hoped, captain Matt Minoff ’04 said that his class has brought about a new standard for Yale basketball.
“Seasons like this are unacceptable,” Minoff said. “Every guy on the team feels it. Anything other than a championship is probably unacceptable — that’s the way it’s going to be from now on.”