For the men’s basketball team, the last 10 days were no vacation.
The Bulldogs’ struggles began in Williamsburg, Va. with their first game, a heartbreaking one-point defeat to Radford University, and ended Sunday in Amherst, Mass. with a 70-56 thumping at the hands of the University of Massachusetts. Overall, the Elis (1-3) dropped three out of four games this break.
“It’s not something on the court we need to work on,” head coach James Jones said. “It’s something mental we need to change. We need to come to the court with a greater deal of passion when we play. Our energy level has to be different. [When] we don’t have a home crowd to support us, we have to bring our own energy.”
In their latest loss, the Bulldogs fell handily to UMass (2-0) despite being down by only six points at the half. The Elis jumped out to an 11-7 lead after making five of their first six shots from the field. But the Bulldog offense slowed later in the half, surrendering seven unanswered points to go down 17-16. That deficit would grow to eight by halftime, 34-26.
The Minutemen maintained their lead in the second half behind the interior work of center Rashaun Freeman, who finished the night with a team-high 21 points. Massachusetts began to pull away early after the break, scoring the first seven points of the half. The Elis never got closer than six before ultimately losing, 70-56.
Center Dominick Martin ’05, perhaps the lone bright spot in the night for the Elis, led both teams with a career-high 23 points on 10 of 12 shooting. He also led the Bulldogs on the glass with nine boards. Yet the Elis as a team shot just 36 percent from the field and made only eight of 20 from the free throw line.
The Bulldogs need consistent scoring from their 6-foot-10 center in order to regularly find wins. Last season, Martin at times struggled to find his scoring touch. Through the first four games this season, Martin is scoring more consistently with 11 points against Radford, 15 against Hartford, seven against Wake Forest and 23 yesterday.
“I’m trying to get into the offense — not do too much, not do too little,” Martin said. “In general, I just try to be a presence on the offensive glass and get to the free throw line.”
Three days prior to Thanksgiving, the Bulldogs battled the top-ranked team in the country for the second time in as many seasons, this time against No. 1 Wake Forest (5-0). Last year, the Elis dropped their season opener to UConn in Storrs, Conn., 70-60, but actually led the eventual national champions at the half, 31-28.
Last Monday night, any upset bid was quickly put out of reach. At halftime, the Bulldogs were already facing a 17-point hole, 58-41. But the Elis rallied on the fingertips of forward Casey Hughes ’07, who scored 10 points in a three-minute span early in the second half. Guard Edwin Draughan ’05 hit a jumper with 13:43 remaining and the visitors had closed the gap to 12, 64-52, but that was the closest the Deacons would let them come.
The Demon Deacons answered with a 15-6 run, capped by a Chris Ellis dunk, that propelled Wake Forest over the 20-point threshold, 79-58. The Bulldogs would not get closer than 16 the rest of the way.
“I thought the Yale kids competed hard,” Wake Forest head coach Skip Prosser said on the Yale athletics Web site. “It was their third game in four days. They shot the ball better against us than any other team at this point in the season. I think that’s a real credit to Coach Jones.”
Hughes finished the night with 20 points and 10 rebounds, both career bests, despite being limited to 21 minutes because of foul trouble.
“Casey’s a very explosive player,” Jones said. “The game against Wake Forest was an open court game. He had a great number of opportunities and he did a great job finishing for us.”
Martin also struggled with fouls, scoring just seven points with six rebounds in 21 minutes. Draughan was second behind Hughes with 19 points, followed by guard Alex Gamboa ’05 with 10. Five different players reached double figures for Wake.
While the Elis shot a respectable 45 percent from the field, the Demon Deacons shot 50 percent in addition to out-rebounding the Bulldogs 47-30. More glaring, the Elis committed 23 turnovers while forcing just one on the part of Wake Forest.
“Wake Forest is the No. 1 team in the country,” Jones said. “To upset them in their house, we would have had to play our best game of the year.”
Before the game, Gamboa was named the Ivy Player of the Week, the result of his best collegiate performance ever two days earlier against Hartford (0-2) in the consolation game of the William & Mary Tip-off Classic in Willamsburg, Va. On Nov. 20, the Elis rode Gamboa’s career-high 23 points to a 92-80 victory.
The Bulldogs led Hartford by three at the half, 45-42, and broke away early in the second period with a 15-4 run. Despite 24 points from Hartford guard Charles Ford, the Hawks would not get closer than eight the rest of the way. Draughan added 17 points for the Elis while Martin poured in 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds. With 12 points, Hughes was the fourth Eli to break double digits. The Elis shot over 53 percent from the field on the night. Still, the Bulldogs had 20 turnovers to Hartford’s 18.
In the first game of the Classic the night before, the Elis opened their season with a heartbreaking loss to Radford (2-1). The Bulldogs had a chance to win in the final seconds, but forward Sam Kaplan’s ’07 jumper from just inside the three-point line missed and the Elis fell by one point, 72-71.
Gamboa paced the Bulldogs with 16 points, followed by Draughan’s 13, including the 1,000th of his career.
The Elis return for some intrastate action Wednesday night against Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.