The men’s basketball team leads Brown in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. While this might signal a sure win against any other team, nothing ever goes quite as expected when Yale plays Brown — a trend the Bulldogs hope to break in Saturday’s conference opener.
Each time the Elis (8-7, 0-0 Ivy) have taken on the Bears (4-9, 0-0) in the past three years, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. In 2003, the Bulldogs allowed Brown standout Earl Hunt 32 points in their first meeting with Brown — half as many points as the entire Yale team. In 2004, Yale dropped consecutive games to Brown within a week of each other to give the Elis a 0-2 start to conference play. When Brown came to Yale in 2005, the Elis were riding a four-game winning streak, including wins over Ivy League favorites Penn and Princeton, but the Bears brought them crashing back down to earth with a 70-64 come-from-behind victory.
Not even the seniors on this year’s squad have witnessed a Yale victory over Brown, which last happened in an 80-77 thriller Jan. 26, 2002. The Elis are eager to see this change.
“They’ve beaten us really badly for the past three and a half years,” guard Eric Flato ’08 said. “They weren’t a very good team last year and they still ended up beating us. We really want to win and start our Ivy League season on a good note.”
Although the Bears have won only four games this season, they will not be an easy opponent. Brown boasts sophomore guard Damon Huffman, the 2004-05 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, who leads the Bears with 10.2 points per game. Junior guard Marcus Becker joins Hufffman as an offensive threat — he is .378 from behind the arc this season (14 of 37) and leads the team with 40 assists. Much of the Bears’ offense revolves around half-court sets designed to get their shooters open.
Yale’s final non-conference game, a 71-59 victory over American University on Monday, gave the Elis a chance to prepare for Brown’s offense.
“We played really good defense against [American's] half court sets,” Flato said. “Brown runs a lot of half-court sets, too, so I think if we keep doing that and keep our intensity up we’ll do well against them.”
Though Brown is a relatively young team, with just one senior returning from last year’s 12-16 (5-9 Ivy) campaign, the Bears are experienced — four starters and 10 total players are back for this season. But that does not mean the Bears lack fresh talent. Freshman guard Scott Friske has made an almost immediate impact on Brown. He averages 9.3 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game on the season, but Friske has only just begun to show opponents what he can do. In the Bears’ last outing, against Quinnipiac on Saturday, he scored 26 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, earning himself Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors for the second week in a row.
Luckily for the Bulldogs, one Brown player they will not see this weekend is point guard Jason Forte, the former Ivy League Player of the Year, who had 42 points in two games against the Elis last year. Forte averaged 18.4 points per game last season and led the team in assists (109).
“They don’t have Jason Forte this year and he ran the show for them,” swingman Caleb Holmes ’08 said. “He ran the ball and he put a lot of pressure on the defense.”
Brown and Yale shared several preseason opponents this season, including Wagner, Navy and Hartford. Both teams lost to Wagner, though Yale fell just short with a 73-69 defeat while Brown was blown out 72-59. Yale came out strong against Wagner with a 19-9 opening run, but the Bears faltered early and found themselves trailing by as much as 25 in the first half. The Bulldogs took a 73-70 win off of Navy, with four players tallying double-digit points. Brown lost to Navy, 73-64, after allowing Greg Sprink to score 34 points off the Bears defense.
“We played a bunch of different kinds of teams to prepare us for our league,” swingman Nick Holmes ’08 said. “And it’s the first time we’ve had a winning record going into Ivy League games in four seasons, so that’s obviously a good start for our season.”