When the men’s basketball team takes the court this weekend at Columbia and Cornell, they will seek victory and the salvation of their Ivy title hopes. But with two conference losses and zero wins already on the books, they are looking up from the bottom of the Ivy League standings.
The Bulldogs (4-11, 0-2 Ivy) can look at one statistic in assessing their waning title potential — in the last 49 seasons, no team has won the Ivy championship with more than four losses. The team is challenged once again with hostile road crowds — the Elis have played 11 of their 15 games away — and must compete with the added pressure to win their first conference game.
The team makes its first stop tonight in the Big Apple against Columbia (12-5, 3-1), the second-ranked team in the league behind the University of Pennsylvania (9-7, 2-0). The Lions are led by second-year head coach Joe Jones, the younger brother of Yale head coach James Jones. The two coaches constitute one of three pairs of brothers to coach in Division I basketball, and they are the only two to compete head-to-head this season. Columbia’s Jones said he is prepared for a very tough game.
“I expect a tremendously intense game,” the younger Jones said. “I know they’re going to be geared up to get their first Ivy League win. They’re a very talented, well-coached team.”
The Elis and Lions split last season’s two meetings, both teams successfully defending their home court. In their first match-up at John J. Lee Amphitheater, the Bulldogs delivered the elder Jones a 63-58 victory in front of the home crowd. Center Dominick Martin’s game-high 14 points led the Elis in the winning effort.
The brothers went head-to-head for the second time in the final game of the season at Columbia’s Levien Gym. The Lions ultimately prevailed 88-79 in double-overtime behind junior forward Dragutin Kravic’s 35 points. Martin again led the Eli offense, this time with 16 points.
Joe Jones said that it can be difficult competing against his brother.
“It’s rough,” he said. “What makes it a tough situation is after the game, because if you lose the game you are upset and if you win the game … I know I’m going to feel for him, that’s what makes it tough.”
Yale’s Jones reiterated the difficulty of coaching against his brother.
“When the game starts, it’s no different than any other game,” James Jones said. “It’s the befores or the afters that are different — you can’t feel good for him if he wins, that’s the most difficult part about it.”
The Lions’ three wins in their first four league games puts them on track to surpass last year’s 6-8 conference mark in Joe Jones’ first year as head coach. Jones said his squad has matured.
“We’re more experienced and we have better leadership because we have six seniors — last year we only had two seniors,” the younger Jones said. “We’re more talented than we were last year, not only because of the freshmen, but because other guys have gotten better. I really think this team knows how to win.”
The Lions are led by senior forward Matt Preston who is second in the league in scoring (15 ppg). As a team, Columbia averages 66 points per game and shoots 42.7 percent from the field.
The Elis will answer with the third and seventh best scorers in the league, guard Edwin Draughan ’05 (14.8 ppg) and Martin (13.8 ppg) respectively. But the Bulldog offense struggled mightily last weekend in losses to Penn and Princeton. Martin scored just two points against the Quakers and six points against the Tigers under intense double-teaming. Eli guard and captain Alex Gamboa ’05, the team’s third-best scoring option, also struggled, contributing just six points over the two losses.
Martin said everyone on the team is ready to change the course of their season.
“Obviously it’s never good to lose two in a row, especially the first two Ivy League games,” Martin said. “It’s a bad feeling and I think we want to change that.”
Jones said the team has worked on offensive execution all week in increasingly quality practices.
“Practice started off a little slow early in the week coming off the two losses,” James Jones said. “But lately it has been better, getting us ready for the two games this weekend. We need good offensive execution and we need to have good shots each time down.”
The Elis will get back on the bus after the game tonight, en route to Ithaca, N.Y. where they will face Cornell (7-10, 2-2 Ivy) for the first time this season. The Big Red sit in the middle of the Ivy League standings after wins over Dartmouth and Columbia and losses to Harvard and Columbia. The Cornell offense is led by junior small forward Lenny Collins who is sixth in the league in scoring (13.9 ppg).
Last season, the Elis triumphed over the Big Red in both meetings. Gamboa’s 16 points led the Bulldogs in a drubbing of Cornell in the first contest at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, 67-48. The second time around, victory did not come so easily, but the Bulldogs eventually came out on top, 64-61, behind Gamboa’s 14 points.
Following this weekend’s games, the Bulldogs will finally don their home jerseys, starting with the Ivy home opener a week from today against Dartmouth. That contest begins a home stand of five games.