Saturday’s contest marked a showdown between two teams struggling out of the gate, each desperately attempting to trade in a recent losing streak for a new streak of an altogether different nature. Unfortunately, the Elis instead added yet another entry to an already overcrowded list of disappointing fourth-quarter defeats.
The story unfolded in a manner all too familiar to the Yale men’s basketball team (1-5). In a matchup that featured eight ties and numerous lead changes, the Bulldogs battled fiercely throughout the entire game, exchanging blow for blow with Wagner (2-5). Once again, late in the fourth quarter, Yale came up just short and relinquished victory for the fifth consecutive contest by a score of 72-65.
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“Our guys are very hungry for wins,” forward Sam Kaplan ’07 said. “Although all five of our losses were against very good basketball teams, we feel that all of those games were winnable games and that we should have pulled out of them with W’s.”
Yale came out of the locker room on fire, drilling its first six shots and jumping out to a commanding 14-3 lead early in the game — a lead it would not surrender until midway through the second half. However, the pesky Seahawks would not admit defeat so early and ran off seven consecutive points culminating with a Joey Mundweiler three-pointer to cut the Bulldog lead to 19-16 with just over 11 minutes left to play in the opening stanza.
Yale responded immediately, mounting a 10-3 run of its own to build the lead back up to 10 points. The Elis shot a sizzling 51.9 percent in the first half, including hitting four of seven from downtown, but it was not enough to bury the Seahawks.
Playing in front of its home crowd in Staten Island, Wagner refused to allow the Bulldogs to gain too much momentum and steadily chipped away at the lead to go into halftime down by just four, 35-31.
Wagner began the second half like a team on a mission and used an 8-0 run to quickly even the score at 39. The teams played neck and neck for much of the remainder of the half, and the Seahawks took their first lead of the game with just under eight minutes left to play on a pair of Mark Porter free throws, 55-53.
An inability to come up with defensive rebounds hurt the Bulldogs late in the game. With the score tied at 63, Seahawk junior forward James Ulrich was fouled as he converted a layup, missed the free-throw to complete the conventional three-point play, but got his own rebound and was fouled again. After sinking the first free throw this time, he missed the second, but sophomore Jamal Smith came up with another offensive rebound for the Seahawks and scored again. After giving up five points on essentially one possession, the Bulldogs found themselves down 68-63 with a minute and a half remaining. Ulrich ended the game with a career-high 21 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals.
Yale would not recover from this unfortunate flurry of second-chance points and dropped their fourth straight game against Wagner. With the win, Wagner broke its seven-game home losing streak at the Spiro Sports Center.
“We just need to learn how to win,” head coach James Jones said. “We have had an opportunity to win every game. Now it’s just a matter of doing it.”
Despite the Bulldogs’ size advantage, it was the Seahawks who dominated both inside the paint and on the boards, out-rebounding Yale 44-34. Wagner had 19 offensive rebounds, leading to 27 second chance points, compared to only four for the Bulldogs, and the Seahawks had almost twice as many points in the paint.
“We really got out-hustled on the boards,” guard Ed White ’09 said. “I think that was the biggest thing that hurt us throughout the game.”
Swingmen Casey Hughes ’07 and Caleb Holmes ’08 led the balanced scoring attack for the Bulldogs with 11 points apiece. Yale does not have to wait long for another shot to end its current losing streak, as it travels to Fairfield tonight to take on another NEC foe, Sacred Heart. The Elis have won all five of their meetings against the Pioneers in program history.