There was really only one Peacock on the entire Saint Peter’s squad that the Bulldogs needed to cage in Saturday night’s game at home — the third best scorer in all of NCAA basketball, Keydren Clark. But Clark soared with 28 points and the Elis fell in their final non-conference game of the season, 79-68.
In their final tune-up before opening Ivy League play against Brown next Saturday, the Elis (4-9) played like a team that still needs a little more grease on the gears. After holding Clark to nine points in the first half, the Eli defense could not contain Saint Peter’s transition offense in the second and the explosive 5-foot-9 guard took over. Driving into the paint for lay-ups and jumpers, Clark nearly matched the rest of his team in scoring in the second half, scoring 19 out of 43 total Saint Peter’s points after halftime.
The Elis battled their own missteps in the game’s final minutes. Down 65-63 with 3:25 remaining, they had a chance to tie the game, but Saint Peter’s rattled off nine unanswered points, ending with guard Corey Hinnant’s nail-in-the-coffin three-pointer at 1:01 to go up 74-63.
Yale head coach James Jones said his defense worked when it was able to set, but faltered when the Peacocks had fast-break opportunities, which were plentiful near the game’s end, compliments of Eli turnovers and missed shots.
“We didn’t play with poise at the end of the game,” Jones said. “We were in control three-quarters of that basketball game. You can’t make mistakes and expect to win. Our half-court defense stopped them. They scored in transition off of missed baskets and turnovers — that’s why they scored.”
The Elis committed two crucial turnovers in the final five minutes. First, Saint Peter’s forward Ron Yates picked Gamboa’s pocket and broke in for an open-court slam dunk to put the Peacocks up 63-61. Then, down 67-63 at 2:32, frustrated Eli center Dominick Martin ’06 committed an offensive foul inside the paint away from the ball. The Peacocks stretched their advantage to nine points, forcing the Elis to foul in the final minute and a half on their way to defeat.
Martin, who scored 10 points, was one of four Elis in double figures in points on the night. Draughan led the way with 16 points, while forward Sam Kaplan ’07 added 14 and captain Alex Gamboa ’05 chipped in with 13 on 3-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
Martin’s dime fell well below his team-leading 15.8 points per game average entering Saturday’s game. Saint Peter’s head coach Bob Leski said early foul trouble might have hurt Martin.
“[Martin] is every coach’s dream so far as a post-player is concerned,” Leski said. “He could play for me any day. I think he got into early foul trouble, he got two early, and then they had to sit him. That might have taken him out of the rhythm of the game. He’s a heck of a player and this is a good team. They’re going to do some damage in the Ivy League. They just didn’t play as well tonight as they’re capable of playing.”
The Saint Peter’s defense, which allowed the Elis to score 38 points on 51.9 percent shooting (14-for-27) in the first half, toughened up in the second. The Peacocks double-teamed Martin down low and held the Bulldogs to 33.3 percent shooting (9-for-27) in the second period.
The story of Saint Peter’s shooting was just the opposite. The Elis held the Peacocks to 45.2 percent shooting (14-for-31) in the first half but allowed them to shoot 55.2 percent (16-for-29) in the second. Along with Clark’s 28 points on 11-for-21 shooting, guard Corey Hinnant, who collected 18 points, was the only other Saint Peter’s player in double digits in scoring.
The Bulldogs entered Saturday’s game after a disheartening loss at home to American University, 69-65, Jan. 10 in which they trailed 47-25 at the half. From the outset against the Peacocks, the Elis clearly wanted to respond to the previous game’s first-half failings, going up 18-4 in the first six minutes of the game. But Saint Peter’s rallied back with 12 unanswered points. While the Bulldogs still held a narrow lead at halftime, 38-36, the Peacocks took over late in the second half.
After the Peacocks went ahead for the first time, 52-51, on a Clark free throw at 11:16, Saint Peter’s stretched its lead to its biggest margin of the night to that point, 59-53. But the Elis clawed back, and guard Edwin Draughan’s ’05 three-pointer at 5:43 tied it up for the last time, 61-61.
Gamboa said the Elis lacked the intensity that characterized their two-game winning streak prior to the American game, when they beat Santa Clara in overtime, 90-84 Dec. 29, and Fairfield University, 60-57, Jan. 5, for their first consecutive victories of the season.
“I still don’t think we’re clicking together like we had been,” Gamboa said. “I just don’t think we’re as sharp and working as well together as we were in the Fairfield game or against Santa Clara.”