Defensive-minded Elis surge

Sports cliches exist for a reason. They become the natural laws of sport, validated season after season. The same things can land last years’ champion in the league basement or flood the floor with fans after a huge upset of a previously-undefeated league rival. With a 56-43 Friday night win over 2003-2004 Ivy Champion Princeton (12-11, 3-6 Ivy) and stunning 78-60 win over league-leading Penn (15-8, 8-1), the men’s basketball team proved twice over that “offense wins games, but defense wins championships” — or at least a sweep of the two teams that have historically dominated the Ivy League.

The Bulldogs (9-12, 5-3) are the only team to beat the Tigers and the Quakers back-to-back since the 2001-2002 season, when the Elis completed a road-sweep to claim a share of the Ivy title. This time, the Bulldogs avenged a pair of earlier losses on their home court, and they did it in style.

While Edwin Draughan ’05 took over offensively, the Elis put together two successive nights of hard-nosed defensive effort. On Friday night, the Bulldogs’ spirited defense exposed every weakness in the famous and seemingly outdated “Princeton offense.”

“We were very prepared [defensively],” Draughan said. “We knew exactly what they were doing, we knew all of their calls. It was just a matter of getting down and stopping them.”

As the Tigers wound down the shot clock with predictable passing patterns, looking for a sure shot, the Bulldogs forced the Tigers to take awkward, low-percentage shots.

“During the course of their offense, they’re really not very aggressive until the last five, ten seconds, so all you have to do is get to your spot and stop the initial shot,” Draughan said.

While pressuring the Tigers’ Judson Wallace, a first-team All-Ivy pick last year, Princeton transfer Dominick Martin ’06 avoided foul trouble and lived up to his low-post defensive potential, holding his former classmate Wallace to pathetic 0-for-4 shooting and only three rebounds. Martin chipped in just seven points, but his five defensive rebounds kept Wallace and reserve Mike Stephens (10 points, four rebounds) from second-chance attempts.

“Dominick’s a big strong body,” head coach James Jones said. “If he gets good positioning he should be able to defend most guys at the basket.”

With Martin lording over the lane, the Bulldog frontcourt was free to neutralize Princeton’s other returning All-Ivy first-teamer Will Venable, holding him to 0-5 shooting from the field and three points overall, well under his season average 10.5 points.

“When you double team in the post you leave yourself open for perimeter jump shots and offensive rebounds for the other team because you are in a scramble,” Jones explained. “If we can guard guys one-on-one at the basket, it puts less pressure on our [perimeter] defense.”

In a defining Bulldog defensive moment, with just over nine minutes remaining in the second half and the Elis leading 46-39, Venable traveled as he tried to penetrate in the lane. Facing a defensive wall with no view of the basket, he was forced to kick the ball outside with just a few seconds left in the shot clock. The call eluded the refs, but the unhappy crowd got something better: Eric Flato ’08 flew into the passing lane, took off down the floor with the ball and was fouled on the ensuing lay-up.

On Saturday night, the Elis’ defense snuffed out Penn’s Tim Begley, who had been scorching Ivy opponents, averaging 15.3 points in conference matchups, including 46 percent shooting from beyond the arc. But Begley is known for his unselfishness and inventive passing, which was evident in the Bulldogs’ 24-point loss to the Quakers earlier this season. Although credited with only three assists in the game on Jan 28, Begley scored 15 points and created many opportunities for Steve Danley (16 points) and Mark Zoller (14 points). The Elis did not forget about Begley this time around.

“[Begley is] such an intelligent player that I knew he wasn’t going to force any shots,” Draughan said. “His main play that he gets most of his shots from are dribble handoffs in transition and I made sure I spotted him in transition and stayed close with him on dribble handoffs.”

Always assigned the opposing team’s top-scorer, Draughan not only held Begley scoreless, but also put up 19 points of his own.

“As good as Draughan was on offense, he was that good on defense,” Quaker head coach Fran Dunphy said.

The same could be said of the rest of the Bulldogs, who shot 46 percent as a team in the second half while holding the Quakers to 28 percent from the field. While Zoller erupted for 22 points, the Bulldogs were tough on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 42-33.

“They played pretty tough in the post,” Zoller said. “They were crashing the offensive boards pretty hard.”

In a home game against Brown on Tuesday, the Elis will have to subscribe to the “one game at a time” mentality. The Bears are an “any given day” kind of team, and although they are currently riding a four-game losing streak, they have beaten the Bulldogs in six of the last seven meetings.

“It’s an amazing feeling [sweeping the Killer P’s],” Draughan said. “We’ve got a game coming up on Tuesday, so we can’t let this linger for too long.”

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