Bulldogs rookies carry bball to wins

Triple trouble in the form of fouls, injury and fatigue surfaced for the Bulldog men’s basketball team this weekend, but the rookie trifecta of Eric Flato ’08 and Caleb and Nick Holmes ’08 provided the essential edge, leading the Elis over Dartmouth and Harvard, their first back-to-back home victories of the season.

With Casey Hughes ’07 out with a shoulder injury and the starting front-court of Sam Kaplan ’07 and Dominick Martin ’06 on the bench with foul trouble, scoring options seemed limited as the first-half clock dwindled against Harvard Saturday night. Holding a slight 27-26 advantage with 1:35 remaining before halftime, the Elis came out with the three-guard lineup of Flato, Edwin Draughan ’05, and Alex Gamboa ’05. Between the experience of Draughan and Gamboa, the spark of Flato and the speed of all three guards, it was the beginning of the end for the Crimson. Driving the baseline and under pressure from three trailing Cantab defenders, Draughan found a ready-set Flato on the wing. Flato caught and shot the ball in one motion, knocking down what is quickly becoming his signature shot: the baseline three.

“The difference in the game was Eric Flato,” Harvard head coach Frank Sullivan said. “I thought we had a tough time guarding him, especially when they had the three-guard lineup out there with Edwin, Eric and Alex … could be the best guards in the league. Two of them–right there, alone, provide enough challenge.”

The Cantabs had no way of predicting the breakout night from Flato, whose spirited play ignited an 11-0 Eli run with 11 minutes remaining in the second half. In just five minutes, Flato collected three assists and seven points, helping the Bulldogs rack up a 50-41 lead with 6:53 to go.

“One thing about Eric Flato is — the kid’s just a baller,” Gamboa said. “He just knows how to play the game.”

Though Flato only went 1-for-8 for the rest of the game, the Bulldogs’ cushion and Martin’s two key free throws with 1:21 remaining were enough to withstand the Cantabs’ late 10-0 surge. Flato preserved the victory, coming up with a huge block on Cantab David Giovacchini’s last-second shot.

“Alex just told me that I had to ‘D’ up,” Flato said of the final five seconds. “I watched [Giovacchini] come down the court, he planted his foot, and I closed in on him as he tried to shoot.”

Flato’s block and overall defensive effort carried added weight, as Draughan, who is second on the team in blocks, was fatigued following an intense first half. Draughan led the team in points (12), rebounds (6) and assists (5) in the first half, going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line, but also held Cantab sharpshooter Kevin Rogus to 0-for-6 shooting. Rogus finished the game shooting a dismal 2-for-12 from the field, just 2-for-10 from beyond the arc.

“[Draughan] had a hell of a first half to get us off to a great start,” head coach James Jones said. “I thought he tired a little bit. I had him play 35 minutes tonight, he played somewhere near that last night … it’s hard to do that, especially at the level that he does. We ask him every night to guard the best perimeter scorer on the other team.”

In the second half, Draughan faded a bit, going 0-for-3, but between Flato’s effort and the return of Kaplan and Martin, who went a combined 5-for-10 in the second frame, the Bulldogs found enough momentum to wrap up the weekend sweep.

“We’ve been fortunate to get a lift from our freshmen in the past two games,” Jones said. “Caleb had a great game for us [against Dartmouth] and Eric … had a much better night [against Harvard].”

Caleb and Nick Holmes provided the essential boost over Dartmouth on Friday night, with 11 and six points respectively. Caleb Holmes’ back-to-back three-pointers in the first half helped get the Elis over the hump, setting off an 11-2 run. In only 16 minutes of play, Nick Holmes knocked down both of his three-point attempts, helping the Elis to 52 percent shooting for the game. Despite the pressure to fill the brief void left by Hughes, Caleb Holmes, Hughes’ replacement in the starting lineup, and Nick Holmes responded well, Gamboa said.

“I don’t think those guys are the type to get nervous,” Gamboa explained. “In fact, I think they were excited. I think they knew it was an opportunity for them to play more minutes, to get a chance to go out there and prove themselves, and I think that’s how they approached it. They did a great job. Especially [against Dartmouth], Caleb and Nick were a huge boost offensively for us and defensively.”

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