In a typical basketball game, it’s almost impossible to score six points, pull down two rebounds, force a turnover, and shoot four foul shots in less than one second for the come-from-behind victory.
Last night, the men’s basketball team proved that almost doesn’t count.
Yale (3-2) was trailing Sacred Heart (1-3) by one, 67-66, when guard Caleb Holmes ’08 snagged a long rebound off of a shot by guard Eric Flato ’08 to change the course of the game. Holmes fired a three from the top of the arc to put Yale ahead, 69-67, with just 1.9 seconds left on the clock.
“I just got a long rebound and I didn’t know how much time was left, so I just shot it,” Holmes said.
But the action still wasn’t over.
Pioneer forward Brice Brooks crossed over the line on Sacred Heart’s inbounds play, handing possession back to the Elis. As Yale tried to take the ball out of bounds, Sacred Heart guard Tavio Hobson intentionally fouled Flato, giving the Elis two free shots and possession of the ball. With the clock still stuck at 1.9, Flato sank one of two from the line to boost Yale’s lead to 70-67.
Yale finally got the ball in play to Holmes, who took 0.9 seconds off the clock before immediately being fouled by Pioneer guard Luke Granato. Holmes found the net on both of his foul shots to put the Bulldogs out of the Pioneers’ reach for good with just one second remaining. When time finally expired, the Elis came out on top, 72-67.
Pulling out the last-second win made the game not only a thrilling first home game for the Elis, but a testament to how far the men’s basketball team has come already this year. Yale head coach James Jones said he already sees a difference from last season, when the Elis “would have lost this game.” Jones said the positive influence of a win against Sacred Heart should help the Elis make much-needed improvements.
“If we take care of the ball like we should and play hard-nosed defense, we can be a good team,” Jones said. “We need to get better, and it’s easier to get better after a win than a loss.”
One of the shortcomings Jones mentioned was the Elis’ inability to hold onto the ball. The Bulldogs average over 20 turnovers per game and gave up possession to the Pioneers 21 times. Fortunately for the Elis, their defense — led by four steals from swingman Casey Hughes ’07 — and several unforced mistakes by Sacred Heart accounted for 22 Pioneer turnovers to help keep Yale in the game.
The Bulldog defense suffered as the team got into foul trouble early in the second half. Leading scorer Sam Kaplan ’07 was called for his fourth foul with over 17 minutes left to play, leaving him sidelined until there were just five minutes left on the clock.
“Sam is a big part of the team and when he was in foul trouble, it definitely affected our game,” Hughes said. “We try to work the ball through Sam, because we’re an inside out team. We were still able to get the ball to [Matt] Kyle ['08] and cut and pass like we wanted to.”
As a team, the Bulldogs hit the 10-foul mark with over 10 minutes left, putting the Pioneers into double-bonus territory. Luckily, the Pioneers were unable to capitalize on Yale fouls and went just 15 of 22 from the line for the night.
More contributions from younger players have made the Elis a different team than fans are accustomed to seeing. Instead of outstanding individual efforts carrying the team, the Elis need every member of their team to chip in.
But at times, particularly early in the contest when Sacred Heart took a 15-6 lead, it seemed as though the focus on teamwork left the Bulldogs without a solid playmaker. Then guard Travis Pinick ’09 hit the court and had a hand in every basket on a 7-0 Eli run. Fresh off the bench with just over 14 minutes left in the first half, Pinick drove into the paint twice, drawing the Pioneer defenders and finding Holmes in the corner for two three-pointers. Pinick connected with Hughes for a layup and then two foul shots off a fast break to put the Elis ahead, 16-15.
Overall, the Elis were glad to pull out a win within the friendly confines of John J. Lee Amphitheater and are looking forward to their next match, a home game against Wagner on Saturday afternoon.
“The fans definitely control confidence a little bit,” Hughes said. “It helps to have the home fans cheering when you make a basket.”