After dropping three of its first four Ivy League games and falling to the bottom of the conference standings, the men’s basketball team made a statement to its peers this weekend. At home for the first time in conference play, the Elis scored victories over Dartmouth and Harvard and made it clear they are not done yet.
Following Friday night’s 66-53 victory over the Big Green and Saturday evening’s 54-53 victory over the Cantabs, the Bulldogs (7-12, 3-3 Ivy) sit in third place along with the Crimson (9-12, 4-4). After the third week of Ivy play, the University of Pennsylvania (14-7, 7-0) remains undefeated and at the head of the Ancient Eight, with Cornell (10-11, 5-3) in second place.
Center Dominick Martin ’06 drained two free throws with 1:22 remaining against Harvard to put the Elis up by one, 54-53. The Cantabs threw up four more shots before the clock ran out but the Eli defense was strong down the stretch, the final stand coming as the last seconds ticked off. Eli guard Eric Flato ’08 tipped Crimson guard David Giovacchini’s desperation shot from beyond the three-point line and Flato recovered the ball as the buzzer sounded.
“We knew that Giovacchini was going to take [the ball up the court] because he was the point guard,” Flato said. “I watched him come down the court. He planted his foot and I just closed out on him.”
Seven-foot Crimson center Brian Cusworth made a lay-up with 2:28 left in the second half to give Harvard a 53-52 lead before Martin converted his free throws. A raucous home crowd watched in horror and elation as possession changed hands a half-dozen times in the final minute. Harvard head coach Frank Sullivan described his devastated squad after the game.
“Our locker room now, it’s probably hurting as much as any locker room we’ve had at Harvard in a long time,” Sullivan said. “We lost by two at Columbia, by two at Dartmouth and now we lose by one to Yale in a very emotionally-charged game. Our guys are hurting right now.”
The Elis opened the game with a 12-0 run and led 19-6 after six minutes. But Martin had to sit after he received his second personal foul with more than 10 minutes left in the half. The Crimson used their size advantage down low to pull within one point, 27-26, with 1:41 left, but the Bulldogs closed the half with a 5-1 run to take a 32-27 lead into the locker room.
Harvard went on a 14-5 run to begin the second period, including a three-pointer by guard Kevin Rogus to give the Crimson their first lead of the night, 37-39. But the Elis answered with a 13-0 run, including two lay-ups and a three-pointer from Flato, to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead of the half, 50-41.
Flato finished the night with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including a hat trick of three-pointers. Draughan also had 13 points to go along with five assists, and Martin added another 12 points and nine boards. Gamboa chipped in with nine points.
Sullivan said his team was prepared for Draughan and Gamboa, but Flato’s emergence took them by surprise.
“The difference in the game was Eric Flato,” Sullivan said. “I thought we had a tough time guarding him. When [Yale] had the three-guard lineup out there with Edwin and Eric and Alex, that proved to be very difficult for us, and certainly [Eric's] threes were instrumental in getting some momentum for Yale.”
The Elis held the Crimson to just 32.1 percent shooting from the field, including 4-for-23 shooting from beyond the arc. Harvard’s leading scorer, forward Matt Stehle, was held to only eight points, though he did bring down 15 rebounds, including four on the offensive end. Cusworth collected 12 points and Giovacchini had 11.
Martin had not broken double-figures in scoring in an Ivy game prior to this weekend. While averaging over 15 points per game in non-conference action, he was averaging 10 fewer points through his first four league games. But Martin found his touch this weekend, dropping 12 on Harvard and 11 more a night earlier on Dartmouth.
Martin also drew tough defensive assignments in the Crimson’s Cusworth and Dartmouth center David Gardner. The Big Green run most of their offense through Gardner on the block, but he was held to zero assists to go along with a team-high 11 points. Dartmouth’s leading scorer, guard Mike Lang, scored just five points.
The Big Green made only one field goal in the final 5:51 of the game and shot a paltry 28.6 percent (8-for-28) in the second half. The Elis, meanwhile, shot over 50 percent from the field on the game, including 63.2 percent (12 of 19) in the second period. Gamboa said the Eli defense stepped up when it was most needed.
“It was a concerted effort by a bunch of guys who wanted to get stops,” Gamboa said. “I could hear guys communicating more, switching on certain screens when necessary. I just feel like we knew we needed to get some stops if we were going to win this game.”
The Elis led by as many as nine points in the first half, but Dartmouth went on a 13-4 run to close out the half and the two teams went into intermission tied at 29.
The Bulldogs and the Big Green traded shots and the lead early in the second half, but Martin’s layup with 16:27 remaining gave the Elis the lead for good, 38-36.
Martin limited Gardner to seven shots in the game and four points in the first half. Draughan led the Elis with 13 points, followed by Martin and forward Sam Kaplan ’07 with 11 points.
“I feel like I got my man back — Dominick,” head coach James Jones said. “He did a great job defensively, and offensively he came out of his shell this weekend. He was much more aggressive on the block and much smoother on the post. He did a great job for us.”
Freshman guard Caleb Holmes ’08, who was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week last week, added another 11 points, including 3-for-5 shooting from three-point territory. His twin brother, guard Nick Holmes ’08, added six points on two three-pointers. Together the Holmes brothers shot five-for-seven beyond the arc and made all but one of the Elis’ six three-pointers. Caleb assisted on one of Nick’s threes.
“We’re really familiar with each other’s games,” Caleb said. “He knows that if I drive, I can spot up and see him, like the one where I got the assist to him [against Dartmouth]. I was going to shoot it but I heard him. I saw him wide open and I just kicked it to him. I knew he could knock down the open shot.”