High expectations, attempts that consistently fell short, disappointing losses. Overall, it was a typical weekend on the road for Yale men’s basketball.
The Elis (11-10, 3-3 Ivy) are 0-3 on the road against league opponents this year after dropping games to Princeton (5-12, 3-1), 66-49, and Penn (12-6, 4-0), 74-52, this past weekend. The defeats drop the Bulldogs back to .500 and fifth place in the conference.
“Our road record has been bad,” center Dominick Martin ’06 said. “We need to be tougher mentally and not make small mistakes. It’s the little things that add up.”
The Elis started the weekend among the top three Ivy teams, and facing the previously unimpressive Tigers at Jadwin Gym Friday night seemed a good opportunity to extend their two-game win streak. But Princeton guard Scott Greenman had other ideas. Greenman played all 40 minutes for the Tigers — contributing 27 points and five assists — and his offensive efforts more than matched those of the Bulldogs. Though Martin contributed a team-high 10 points and seven rebounds, the rest of the starting lineup only netted 30 points combined.
“I think that the shots [the Tigers] got are the shots they have been getting all season,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “[Greenman] got some good looks. I thought some were contested, some weren’t. He knocked them down, and you’ve got to give the kid credit.”
Against Princeton, the Elis trailed by just six at halftime, 27-21, and even took a three-point lead, 40-37, off a jump shot by center Matt Kyle ’08 with just over 10 minutes left to play. But the Bulldogs were outscored, 26-9, in the last 10 minutes, including eight points off foul shots in the last 2 minutes to keep the Elis at bay.
“I just think it had to do with the matchup zone,” captain Josh Greenberg ’06 said. “It’s not man-to-man, it’s not zone, and we don’t see it a lot, and we struggled a little.”
Jones said troubles with free-throw shooting also held the Elis back.
“If you don’t score from the free throw line, you can’t expect to win,” he said. “We had a couple of and-ones, which could have added to our momentum and helped us set the press, but missing those shots ended our momentum.”
The Elis looked primed for a rebound victory against Penn Saturday night, and early on, it seemed as though the Palestra was Yale’s home court. The Bulldogs took a 16-1 lead six minutes into the first half, anchored by eight points and two assists from guard Eric Flato ’08.
Stellar defense from the Bulldogs kept Penn’s most dangerous weapons, guard Ibrahim Jaaber and forward Mark Zoller, out of the game for the entire first half. In his 18 minutes, Jaaber had no points, no assists and no rebounds. Zoller had just two points and four rebounds, well short of his season averages.
“Our starters came out and played with a lot of intensity,” Greenberg said. “We were able to get the ball inside to [Martin] and Sam [Kaplan ’07], and particularly to [Martin]. He’s our best player.”
The final minutes of the first half and the entire second stanza saw momentum swing away from the Elis. Penn started its comeback largely on the shoulders of reserve guard Friedrich Ebede, who scored all 11 of his points in the first half to keep the Quakers in the game. By the opening of the second stanza, Penn had cut Yale’s 15-point lead down to three.
When the second half opened, the Bulldogs looked harried. Their shooting dropped from 60 percent in the first half to 33 percent in the second, while their 60-percent accuracy from three-point range fell to zero.
“Our offense is predicated on getting the ball inside, and when we don’t do it, it hurts,” Jones said. “It was a tale of two halves. I think we settled. They made it a little tougher [to get the ball inside], but all that means is we’ve got to work harder. We settled for jump shots instead of moving the ball and waiting for good shots inside.”
Penn, on the other hand, looked exactly as one would expect the defending Ivy League champions to look. Jaaber stepped up and led the Quakers with 11 points during the half. Penn overcame 35 percent shooting in the first half to shoot over 60 percent from behind the arc and 57 percent from the floor.
At the end of the weekend, one thing was obvious: Princeton and Penn beat Yale at its own game. The Elis pride themselves on the strength of their bench, but Princeton had 14 bench points from just two players to the Elis’ nine from seven subs, and Penn had 27 bench points compared to Yale’s 20.
The Elis generally enjoy a rebounding advantage over their opponents, but both Penn and Princeton pulled down more boards than the Bulldogs. Penn had 34 rebounds, including 13 offensive rebounds to give them 15 second-chance points. The Elis only managed to grab 29 boards, only 11 of which came during the second half. The Tigers, with a significantly smaller lineup than the Elis, still out-rebounded the Bulldogs, 28-23.
The Ancient Eight standings are starting to take shape. Penn, the preseason favorite, is the uncontested leader and the only team without a league loss. But the real surprise in the top two is Princeton, which has already collected three victories in the conference despite entering Ivy League play with just two wins.
The Elis will return to New Haven and hopefully break their two-game losing streak when they host Cornell and Columbia next weekend.