After an unimpressive 2-5 record to open the season, the men’s basketball team fared better over winter break, going 2-2 as the Elis neared the end of their non-conference schedule.
The Bulldogs’ latest victory came on their home court against in-state rival Fairfield this past Wednesday night before a crowd of 1,231 at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. The Elis (4-7) rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to edge the Stags, 60-57.
The win over Fairfield gave the Bulldogs their first back-to-back victories of the season, following their 90-84 overtime triumph over Santa Clara in the consolation game of the Cable Car Classic in Piedmont, Calif. Dec. 30. A day earlier the Elis dropped a close contest in their first round meeting with UNC-Charlotte, 80-74.
The Bulldogs’ win over Santa Clara put the brakes on a four-game skid that began with an overtime loss to Bucknell 73-65 Dec. 4. It was also the Elis’ first overtime victory of the season.
The Bulldogs began their vacation schedule with a painful double-overtime loss to Boston College 82-80 in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Dec. 19. The Eagles are currently undefeated at 13-0, and broke into the national rankings Jan. 5 at No. 25 in the AP Poll. Yale head coach James Jones said his squad played its best ball of the season against the Eagles.
“I think [that game] got us to understand how good we can be if we play well together,” Jones said. “That game shows the ceiling we can play at. It was good for the kids to be reminded that they are still a very good basketball team despite some of the losses we’ve had.”
The Elis led by 10 points at halftime, 37-27, while holding the Eagles to 10-for-30 shooting from the field. But Boston College responded after the half, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field the rest of the way. Eagles forward Craig Smith, who was named the Sporting News National Player of the Week in early December, hit 10 of 11 shots after halftime and scored 21 of his game-high 29 points after the break.
The reeling Bulldogs maintained a slim advantage throughout the second half and still held the lead, 62-59, with 1:29 remaining. But Smith hit a free throw followed by two more from guard Jermaine Watson, who came off the bench to score 13 points, including 9-for-11 shooting from the free-throw line.
Knotted at 62, the teams moved into overtime. The Eagles led by as many as five points in the first OT but free throws from guard Edwin Draughan ’05 and center Dominick Martin ’06 left the two teams still tied, 69-69, by the end of the first extra five minutes.
The Elis fell behind early in the second OT as BC scored the first four points of the extra frame and led by as many as seven. Captain Alex Gamboa ’05 led the Elis’ last effort, hitting a three followed by a Martin dunk and a tip-in. The ball belonged to the Elis with seven seconds left and BC leading 82-80, but Draughan’s off-balance three-pointer missed at the buzzer.
Martin led the Elis with 22 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. Draughan added 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Four Bulldogs in all reached double figures in points with Gamboa tallying 15 and forward Sam Kaplan ’07 adding 11 more.
After a brief holiday respite, the Elis traveled to Piedmont, Calif. for the Cable Car Classic and again threatened to upset a top opponent in UNC-Charlotte. The 49ers are receiving votes in both national polls and upset Indiana Dec. 22. Charlotte opened the game with a 13-2 run, but the Elis slowly fought back thanks to solid defense.
“In California against Charlotte, we started down 13,” Gamboa said. “You can’t get back into a game like that unless you get some defensive stops. Defensively, we’re just more aware now — we have a better feel for what’s going on on the court.”
The Elis also found the scoring touch, shooting 49.2 percent from the field. Martin led the way with 21 points and six rebounds, followed by Draughan’s 20 points and Gamboa’s 16 points, five rebounds and five assists.
But the early deficit proved too great. Charlotte’s freshman guard Leemire Goldwire led all players with 22 points and center Martin Iti helped out with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The 49ers held on for their fifth straight victory, 80-74.
After a pair of hard-fought games against two of the top teams in the country, resulting in two losses, the Elis were ready for victory. But nothing would come easy against Santa Clara. Pushed to overtime for the third time in ten games, Kaplan and forward Casey Hughes ’07 hit back-to-back three-pointers in the extra session as the Bulldogs broke a 79-79 tie on their way to a 90-84 victory.
Six Bulldogs scored in double figures, led by Draughan’s 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Freshman guard Eric Flato ’08, a Piedmont native, wowed his hometown crowd, full of family and friends, with a career-high 16 points. Kaplan, Martin and Gamboa added 14 each and Hughes had 10.
Jones needed big contributions from his starters and from the bench, which at times has underperformed this season, in order to get the win over a Santa Clara team that earlier in the season beat then-No. 4 North Carolina.
“Our bench is very important to us,” Jones said. “All of those guys, whether they score or not, it’s important that they contribute.”
In just their second home game of the season, the Bulldogs made it two straight in the win column.
The Bulldogs will play their next three games on their home court, starting with American University tonight. The Elis lost handily, 84-73, when the two teams last met, Jan. 3, 2004. Jones said that the American squad the Elis will see tonight is largely unchanged, and that the Bulldogs will have to come with more intensity than last year if they are to win.
“They are basically the same team as last year,” Jones said. “We really played poorly in that game. Just watching the tape from last year, we came out flat. We outplayed them in the second half but could not come back to get the victory. They shoot from the one spot to the four spot.”
Kaplan said that the team has come together defensively, but shot guarding will be the key to tonight’s game.
“We’re just playing together more now,” Kaplan said. “People have confidence in their teammates. [But] I think field goal percentage defense [needs to be better]. We give up too many easy hoops, too many easy shots.”