Young Elis lose stars but still find ways to win

On Tuesday night, the Eli men committed 20 turnovers and 21 fouls, and their shooting percentage fell by more than 10 percent after the break. And yet, after 40 minutes of play, they still walked away with an exhilarating win against Sacred Heart and a winning record.

While the Bulldogs have gotten off to a stronger start this year, their season so far has been characterized by inconsistency, slow starts and very close contests. The Elis barely scraped by Louisiana Tech to open the season, winning by only one, and although they pulled out tight games against Longwood and Sacred Heart, they lost to perennial Big 12 contender Nebraska and Patriot League power Bucknell. The Bulldogs have yet to win a game by more than five points.

“In all three games we’ve won, it’s been close,” captain Josh Greenberg ’06 said. “We let teams hang around.”

Greenberg said this year’s weaker preseason schedule has been a factor in the Elis’ early success. But he also said that last year’s team consistently let close games slip away, and that this squad already looks different.

“We didn’t really win close games last year, we found every way to lose.” Greenberg said.

This year is already different from last year. It is a tremendous testament to the Elis that they have performed as well as they have despite the absence of standout center Dominick Martin ’06 and the loss of two of last year’s leading scorers to graduation.

While the Bulldogs may be playing without their biggest contributors from last season, that may be a blessing in disguise. Instead of relying on one or two players for clutch plays, the Elis have been forced to explore other options. The Bulldogs’ scoring has been evenly and generously distributed in their games, with four or five different players scoring in double figures every game. With several different players seeing significant minutes and contributing, opposing defenses will be forced to guard every man on the floor.

Though their lack of experience leaves unclear how they will fare against stronger opponents, freshmen have already come up big for the Elis.

“The more they play, the more they learn.” forward Sam Kaplan ’07 said. “Our freshmen are giving us some really good minutes.”

Kaplan also noted that while there is often a lack of experience on the floor, the underclassmen still play with a lot of leadership.

“We’ve had different leading scorers in every game we’ve played,” Kaplan said. “Different guys can hurt you in different ways.”

And Martin’s presence come January will only help the Bulldogs. Kaplan said that Martin’s return will open things up for other players on the floor.

But games against more polished opponents, such as Big 12 powerhouse Kansas, will prove exceptionally challenging if the Bulldogs continue to suffer from slow starts and sloppy mistakes.

“We’ve gotten off to really bad starts to pretty much all our games,” Greenberg noted. “Offensively we struggle, we turn the ball over way too much.”

The same explosive energy that powers such clutch plays as Caleb Holmes’ ’08 three-pointer with 1.9 seconds remaining in regulation Monday needs to be better controlled and channeled. But if the Sacred Heart game is a harbinger of things to come for men’s basketball, this season looks to be an exciting, although nerve-racking campaign.

“We’re happy with our record, but we have a long way to go for us to become a better team to do well in our league,” Greenberg said.

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