Elis hit road after losing home opener

If losing their first home game of the season was not tough enough, the men’s basketball team now has to hit the road again for its remaining four games in December, traversing three states on both coasts.

After Saturday’s overtime loss to Bucknell, 73-65, the Elis (2-4) face a true test of their energy on the court as they log so many miles by land and by air.

The journey starts today in Niagara Falls, N.Y. when the Bulldogs challenge Niagara, which has won four of its last five contests. Before taking an abbreviated holiday break, the Elis will take on undefeated Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. on Dec. 19.

The Bulldogs will then usher in the new year with back-to-back games on the west coast in Santa Clara, Calif.. The team will first tangle with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte Dec. 28 and then against the winner of a game between Central Connecticut State and Santa Clara Dec. 29. Yale concludes its winter break games and opens up 2005 with a treat — a home game. The Elis will play host to Fairfield Jan. 5.

The Elis had hoped to gain some momentum in their brief respite at home and they might have done so if not for the foul trouble of center Dominick Martin ’06 and poor team shooting.

Forward Sam Kaplan ’07 said Martin’s absence made it difficult for the Eli players to find open looks against the Bison defense.

“I think that really hurt us, [Dominick] getting in foul trouble,” Kaplan said. “He’s an inside presence that demands double-teams. When he gets the ball, [and is] double-teamed, and kicks it out, it’s an easier shot than when he’s not there.”

In a back and forth contest against the Bison, the Bulldogs shot just 36.5 percent (19 of 52) from the field. Included in those 33 missed shots was an Edwin Draughan ’05 jumper at the buzzer that rimmed out, leaving the teams knotted at 57 at the end of regulation.

Bucknell’s shooting was hardly more impressive, as the team downed just 38.1 percent (24 of 63) of their shots from the field. But led by forward Charles Lee’s 22 points and 18 rebounds, it was enough for the victory.

The Elis countered with Draughan’s 21 points on six-for-14 shooting from the field and nine-for-14 from the free throw line. Yet the Yale squad had to go much of the night without its leading scorer and inside big man Martin, who still scored 12 points and took down eight boards while being limited to 19 minutes of action because of the fouls.

“It is a tough loss,” Eli captain and guard Alex Gamboa ’05 said. “It’s a game we actually played fairly well in for the majority of the game. Defensively, it was one of our best performances. We were able, for the most part, to thwart their production offensively. But we missed free throws down the stretch. We had lots of opportunities to increase the lead but we didn’t.”

Entering Saturday’s game, Martin was leading the Elis with 15 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, leaving one to wonder what could have been had he gotten more minutes against Bucknell.

The Elis trailed early on and went into the locker room at halftime down 26-21 after shooting just 26.1 percent from the floor (six of 23). But they opened up the second half with a 16-6 run and led 37-32 with 12:30 remaining. Bucknell later tied the score at 39 apiece, but the Elis rattled off six straight points, and led 57-51 with only 56 seconds remaining.

But Bucknell forward John Clark and center Chris McNaughton answered with three-pointers to tie the game at 57. Draughan missed the buzzer-beater and the teams moved into OT.

Bucknell guard Kevin Bettencourt opened up the overtime with a three-pointer and the Bison never looked back, holding the lead for all five minutes of the overtime.

Down 67-65 with 20 seconds remaining, the Elis had possession and the chance for a last shot. But Bettencourt stole the ball and drained two free throws on the other end to seal the Eli defeat.

With Martin’s limited time, head coach James Jones had to keep his starters in for more minutes and use more players off the bench. The Elis, who are still without freshman forward Nick Holmes ’08 due to an ankle sprain, had been hoping for more than the 12.6 points per game that the bench had averaged entering Saturday’s game. But against Bucknell, the Eli bench managed just nine points.

Martin said that it is difficult to explain such poor shooting — it was just a night when the Elis did not get the rolls on the rim.

“We were getting good looks, but shots weren’t falling in the first half,” Martin said. “We didn’t even shoot that many outside shots — not a lot of three-pointers. We were just missing shots in general — missing lay-ups, close shots — we weren’t on at all.”

The Bulldogs have a tough task in trying to rebound against Niagra today. The Purple Eagles are led by forward Juan Mendez, whose 20.5 points per game rank as the 21st best total of all players in Div. I men’s basketball. As a team, Niagra is averaging 84.7 points per game compared to the Elis’ average of 71.7.

Mendez scored 25 points against the Elis in December 2003 when the visiting Purple Eagles rode roughshod over the Bulldogs 79-62 at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. In that meeting, Martin led the Elis with 16 points.

The competition does not get any easier down the road as the Bulldogs take on teams threatening to crack the top 25 in the nation. Boston College has consistently garnered votes in the AP Poll but has yet to crack the national rankings. Santa Clara has also hovered around the top 25 throughout the year. The UNC-Charlotte 49ers nearly beat No. 18 Alabama last Saturday, but fell 102-101 in triple overtime.

“If we sit and dwell on this loss, we’re not going to be prepared. Our next three games are very difficult. We’re going to meet some adversity. The toughest [challenge] is to maintain our team chemistry, stick together and stay positive. If we can do that, I think we’ll surprise one of these teams,” Gamboa said.

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