Whatever you say about the men’s basketball team’s first two homestands, you can’t say they were boring.
Though the Elis (3-3) walked away from a 72-67 thriller against Sacred Heart with a win, they could not pull out a similar victory against Wagner (4-1) Saturday. The Bulldogs fell to the Seahawks, 73-69, despite holding an 8-point lead with 8 minutes to play.
Though it was another tally in the loss column, Yale head coach James Jones said Saturday’s loss provided more cause for praise than the Sacred Heart victory.
“I was much happier with the way we played in this game than in the Sacred Heart game,” Jones said. “We competed very hard from start to finish. Our offensive things went much more smoothly.”
The Elis’ late 8-point lead disappeared when the Seahawks outscored the Bulldogs, 12-4, in a 3-minute stretch to tie the game at 65. Three consecutive shots, including two threes, from Wagner guard Joey Mundweiler helped the Seahawks recover from the deficit with just under 5 minutes left to play.
Back-to-back layups from Wagner forward Durell Vinson and Yale forward Sam Kaplan ’07 kept the stalemate intact until nearly the 39th minute. Kaplan missed two free throws that would have regained the lead for Yale, and Vinson hit another layup to put Wagner ahead by two with 1 minute remaining.
With 14 seconds left, Yale guard Caleb Holmes ’08 committed a last-ditch foul, hoping to get the ball back to the Elis.
His plan worked. Wagner guard Jamal Smith missed both his shots from the free throw line, and Eli guard Eric Flato ’08 got the outlet pass from under the basket. Flato found Kaplan streaking to the basket, but Vinson blocked Kaplan’s layup attempt, denying the Bulldogs their shot at the win.
“We had our chances,” Jones said. “We had leads that we weren’t able to sustain.”
One reason the Elis were able to play Wagner so closely was forward Casey Hughes ’07. Hughes set the pace for the game, leading all players with 11 rebounds and a career-high 22 points. Hughes, who averages just .586 from the free throw line this season, nailed all 11 of his foul shots against Wagner and shot .500 from the floor.
“Our goal was to keep Hughes off the boards,” Wagner head coach Mike Deane said. “And we did a poor job of that. He had a hell of a game. He’s a very talented guy.”
Hughes’ efforts were even more impressive considering that Wagner did a very effective job of limiting the Elis’ opportunities inside the paint. At halftime, a smaller Wagner team had 6 more points in the paint than the Bulldogs. During the second half, forward Ross Morin ’09 had just 4 points and Hughes had 6.
“All five of their guys played really hard at all times,” Kaplan said. “They front the post really well. Their weak-side help makes it really hard to get post touches.”
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