By Ryan Hartnett
After their Ivy title prospects all but disappeared Tuesday in a loss to Brown, the men’s basketball players must pick themselves up off the court, board the bus, and journey into the hostile homes of Harvard and Dartmouth.
The road has not been friendly to the Bulldogs (9-13, 5-4 Ivy) in conference play this season, with the Elis going 1-3 in their first four games away from John J. Lee Amphitheater. But the Elis played their last five games at home, and won the first four contests before the 70-64 loss to Brown. Included in those victories were wins over Dartmouth (8-15, 5-5) and Harvard (10-13, 5-5), and the Elis hope homebuilt confidence will lead them to the season sweep of both teams in their own buildings this weekend.
“You have to take into consideration who we played [on the road],” Yale head coach James Jones said. “We laid an egg against Penn. It was a hard-fought game against Princeton and we had a chance to win but let it get away from us. We lost in double-overtime to Cornell. I don’t think that anything prior has anything to do with what we do this weekend. Harvard and Dartmouth are two teams we’ve already beaten. We have a chance to sweep this weekend.”
The Bulldogs’ 54-53 victory over Harvard at home Feb. 12 was their eighth victory over the Crimson in their last nine meetings. Their 66-53 drubbing of Dartmouth Feb. 11 at home was their ninth straight victory over the Big Green.
The Elis’ toughest task will be to contain their opponents’ big men this weekend. Harvard’s seven-foot center, Brian Cusworth, is second on the team in scoring and seventh in the league (13.3 ppg) and Dartmouth’s center, David Gardner, is second on the team in scoring (10.4 ppg) and the focal point of the Big Green offense.
Cusworth scored 12 points against the Elis last time out, but half of those points came on 6-for-6 shooting from the free throw line. He has broken the 20-point mark twice this season and dropped 18 on Columbia last weekend in a Crimson victory. The Elis’ own center, Dominick Martin ’06, said Cusworth is difficult to defend because he can play the post and shoot from the outside.
“He’s a very good center,” Martin said. “He’s a little more perimeter-oriented. He can shoot. I just have to keep him off the glass as much as possible and push him out as far as possible. I need to limit his touches and make his shots more difficult.”
The Elis will also have to stop Crimson forward Matt Stehle, who is first on the team and fifth in the league in scoring (13.8 ppg). Stehle was limited to eight points against the Elis in their last meeting, but he still pulled down 15 boards.
Jones said the 6-foot-8-inch Stehle is a particularly difficult matchup for both forward Sam Kaplan ’07 and small forwards Caleb and Nick Holmes ’08 on defense because of his combination of size and speed.
“I’ve seen him for three years now — he’s a very good player,” Jones said. “He’s a little quicker than Sam Kaplan at the four and taller than the Holmes brothers.”
The Elis must also counter Crimson senior guard Kevin Rogus, who is now averaging 10 points per game after last weekend’s 23-point performance in a loss to Cornell.
The Big Green are more limited in their scoring options and average fewer points per game, 59, than every other team in the league with the exception of Princeton. The Big Green’s Gardner scored a team-high 11 points against the Elis in their last meeting. Dartmouth runs its offense through Gardner in the post almost every time down the court, either giving him the ball to shoot or dish off. But Martin was able to keep the ball out of Gardner’s hands in their last meeting, limiting him to only seven shots.
“He’s a very good player, very strong and very big,” Martin said. “He has great post moves. The farther you push him out, the harder it is for him to make moves against the defense. I need to deny passes and destroy plays whenever I can.”
Reserve guard Mike Lang leads the Dartmouth offense with 12 points per game. As evidence of the Big Green’s uncertain offense, their top scorer, Lang, has come off the bench in the majority of games this season. Martin said that Dartmouth wins through patience.
“They just slow it down and grind it out,” Martin said. “They make every possession count. They will try to make you make mistakes. It’s a game of possessions.”
For the Elis, the requisite for success is unchanging: defense. Lack of offense has rarely been a problem for the Elis this season — they were averaging a league-best 67.8 points per game before the loss to Brown. But they also bear the shame of the league’s worst defense, allowing 71 points per game.
In their run of four straight home victories, the Bulldogs held their opponents to 56 points per game and 37 percent shooting from the field. After giving up 70 points to Brown on Tuesday, the Elis look to regain their defensive intensity.
“There was tons of energy [yesterday] in practice,” Kaplan said. “Everybody’s really fired up. We just want to get back on the court and show everybody that Tuesday was a fluke. We’re better than that.”
The Elis can ensure a .500 conference record or better this weekend with two victories. It would be their fifth straight year of winning seven games or more in the Ancient Eight.