CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — After searching for more than a year, the men’s basketball team finally found what it had been looking for — a road win in conference play.
The fact that the team to fall at the Elis’ hands was archrival Harvard (12-11, 4-6 Ivy) made the long-awaited victory even sweeter. After falling to Dartmouth (5-18, 3-7), 72-64, on Friday night, the Bulldogs (14-11, 6-4) rebounded with a 77-66 win over the Crimson the following night. The Elis had not pulled off a conference victory in an away game since Feb. 2, 2005, at Columbia.
The unexpected win was a testament to the quality of this year’s squad, Yale head coach James Jones said.
“In a game where [Harvard] made 100 percent of their free throws, had 16 offensive rebounds, and we had 17 turnovers, that we found a way to win shows the makeup of this team,” Jones said.
Walking into Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion for a men’s basketball game can be a little intimidating at first. Nine Ivy League Championship banners hang in a row across the court, punctuated by a massive flag boasting the NCAA Tournament logo that lists all the years the Crimson have appeared in the playoffs. Nearly 2,000 fans packed into the stands Saturday night, 500 more than the Elis have averaged at John J. Lee all season long.
But several minutes were enough to reveal why every single Ivy League Championship banner belongs to the Harvard women and that the men’s side has never won the conference title nor appeared in the NCAA Tournament. A couple more minutes showed that the stands were filled by parents, community members and Yale fans, not Harvard students. Even the music was deceptive: Marching band-style fight songs played, but it was a scratchy recording that sounded as though it predated the Ivy League.
Then the game started, and it seemed as though not only was the atmosphere misleading, but so was the Harvard team itself. The Crimson had the makings of a better challenge. They have the big names — All-Ivy forward Matt Stehle, center Brian Cusworth and shooting guard Jim Goffredo. They have the big numbers — Stehle and Goffredo are second and third in the league in scoring, respectively, and point guard Drew Housman is second in assists. But it was the Elis who had the big game Saturday night.
Center Dominick Martin ’06 scored a career-high 26 points to lead the Bulldogs, and also collected 11 rebounds to earn his third double-double in four games. And though the numbers show that Cusworth, Martin’s defensive assignment, had a stellar offensive performance (24 points), Martin was a dominant presence on the defensive end of the court as well, taking drives away from Crimson guards and defending well against Harvard’s pick-and-roll offense.
“[Martin] is a big part of what we do,” Jones said. “He’s good enough and skilled enough to make plays. He fed off his teammates a lot [Saturday].”
On the other post, forwards Sam Kaplan ’07 and Ross Morin ’09 put on a show of their own. Kaplan, who came off the bench Friday night, had his first start in four games after a wrist injury kept him on the sidelines last weekend. Kaplan had 10 points and two rebounds, and Morin added eight points — he did not miss a shot the entire night — and six boards.
But more impressive than their offensive contributions were their defensive efforts. The duo of power forwards held Stehle to just six points the entire game on 1-of-11 shooting from the floor.
Though Yale’s post was clearly a strength Saturday night, it was Harvard’s strong suit as well. The difference-maker was the Bulldogs’ outside shooting, led by guard Eric Flato ’08, who tallied 19 points on 50 percent shooting. The Crimson backcourt was unable to challenge offensively or defensively. Guard Michael Beal scored the Cantabs’ only two three-point shots, while Flato went 4-of-8 from behind the arc and guards Nick Holmes ’08 and Caleb Holmes ’08 each added a three to the Elis’ tally.
“We didn’t guard the perimeter,” Harvard head coach Frank Sullivan said. “We didn’t go out to defend at the line.”
Though Yale clearly emerged as the better team on Saturday night, the troubles the Elis have struggled to fight off all season nagged them Friday at Dartmouth. The Bulldogs had 21 turnovers against the Big Green, a mark they had not reached since before the start of league play. The Bulldogs had just seven assists, compared to Dartmouth’s 13.
Big Green guard Leon Pattman came off the bench to score a game-high 22 points for Dartmouth. As opposed to the performance that would come the next night against Harvard, the Bulldogs could not guard the perimeter against the Big Green, which shot 85.7 percent from behind the arc during the second half.
Martin added 19 points and nine assists for the Bulldogs, and Kaplan had 12 points off the bench.
“We didn’t rebound at all,” captain Josh Greenberg ’06 said. “They shot a lot of threes, so there were a lot of long rebounds we didn’t get to. Offensively, we turned the ball over a lot trying to force it into the paint.”