For last years’ Bears, the season had been bad news up until one key moment turned it around. Edwin Draughan’s 3-pointer attempt at the end of regulation spun off the rim, sending the conference opening game into overtime, which Brown won, 87-75.
“I was thinking, ‘That shot looks good,'” recalled Bears’ guard Jason Forte. “But then it rimmed out.”
The overtime victory over the Bulldogs at Payne Whitney jump started the ailing Bears, especially their star guard, Forte.
“I had to redeem myself because at that point, I knew my team needed me,” Forte said. “One of the things I do is score, and, without that, I am not helping my team.”
Forte’s team-leading and game-high 26 points against Yale — 22 of which came after the half — helped transform a junior-season slump into an Ivy League Player of the Year nod.
That was then, and this is now — or so the Bulldogs hope. If there is any truth in coincidence, the Bulldogs just might be in luck. Last years’ Bears found themselves at almost the same juncture as the Bulldogs find themselves now — 4-9 on the brink of conference play. Like this year’s Bulldogs, the 2003-2004 Bears’ non-conference stretch included a lopsided loss to Wake Forest and a handful of other disappointing losses. Just as the Bears’ frustrations morphed into good fortunes in New Haven, the Elis are hoping for a similar turnaround.
“I’m certainly not beaten down and — I hope this team realizes that this thing isn’t over for us, it’s just beginning,” captain Alex Gamboa ’05 said, following last Saturday’s loss to St. Peter’s. “I really feel like this Saturday’s game is very big for us, it could determine how we play the rest of the season.”
Despite the fact that the Bears have taken six of the last seven contests against the Elis, the preseason polls had the Bulldogs finishing in third place, just one spot ahead of Brown. For the Bears, being in Yale’s shadow is nothing new.
“It’s something that we’re used to by now,” Bears’ forward Nate Eads said. “We never get the respect we deserve. It’s kind of our trademark.”
One reason for the lower seeding might be the Bears’ youth, but Forte pointed out that many of the team’s eight freshman have had significant playing time in the non-conference games.
“It’s like Coach says, ‘You guys are no longer freshmen,'” Forte explained. “They’ve played a lot of key minutes.”
Freshmen guards Damon Huffman and Mark McAndrew are the Bears’ answer to Eric Flato ’08 and Caleb Holmes ’08. When Forte, one of two co-captains, was suspended at the start of the Bears’ season for poor practice habits and failing to uphold his leadership role, Huffman took over the spot. In the team’s first outing, a 10-point loss to Missouri, Huffman scored a team-high 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting from behind the arc.
“I was definitely impressed with how he did in my absence,” Forte said. “Especially with the performance against Missouri, which showed a lot of character.”
But Huffman and McAndrew are merely apprentices under Ivy League-leading scorer Forte, who is a flashy, fast guard, much like St. Peter’s Keydren Clark, who solved the Bulldogs’ defense single-handedly last Saturday. In preparation this week, the Elis have been hard at work on their transition “D,” Gamboa said.
“[Forte's] a very fast player, so our goal is to contain him,” Gamboa said. “[Brown] likes to get up and down the court very fast, and he likes to score, so we’re just going to try to cut down on their opportunities.”