The men’s basketball team didn’t have long to celebrate after terminating its six-game losing streak with an emphatic victory over American on Saturday afternoon.
Just when it appeared that Bulldog fans might be able to forget the accumulated pain of six consecutive close losses, visiting Hartford (5-4) mounted a significant late-game comeback and stunned the Lee Amphitheater crowd with a one-point overtime win, 66-65. Though it was clear that the Elis (2-7) played some of their best basketball of the season throughout Monday night’s contest, a few errors late in the game and during overtime cost the team its first potential back-to-back wins of the season.
Yale began its final week of play before the holiday break by playing host to American (7-3), which is off to its best start in 17 years, and in the process has begun finding itself as a team in many respects. The Bulldogs used a superb all-around team effort to put an end to the Eagles’ four-game win streak and to register their first victory in almost a month.
“It was getting pretty frustrating,” center Matt Kyle ’08 said. “We have been working so hard as a team, and people just don’t understand the time and effort we’ve been putting in to get better. Winning makes all that worthwhile.”
The teams played neck and neck for most of the first half, heading into the locker room with the Eagles on top, 29-28. Early in the second half, an alley-oop pass from guard Eric Flato ’08 to high-flying swingman Casey Hughes ’07 resulted in a forceful dunk, exciting the crowd and sparking an 8-0 run by the Bulldogs. American cut the lead to four with just over 11 minutes left to play, but Yale used a 19-7 run to put the game out of reach and bury the Eagles, 70-53. Forward Caleb Holmes ’08 notched a career-high 17 points, while Hughes and forward Ross Morin ’09 added 16 apiece to pace the Elis’ balanced scoring attack.
Yale carried its momentum into the Hartford game two nights later and jumped on the Hawks early, shooting over 52 percent in the first half en route to a 34-22 half-time lead. Hartford battled back with a 15-3 run and cut the lead to only three, but the Elis clamped down and built their lead back up to nine, punctuated by an emphatic put-back dunk by swingman Nick Holmes ’08. Holmes would end the game with a season-high 13 points and eight rebounds.
After a Flato three-pointer from the corner put Yale ahead 55-48 with less than six minutes remaining in regulation, the Hawks came to life. Eli turnovers down the stretch allowed Hartford back in the game. Freshman guard Joe Zeglinski scored the most important of his team-high 17 points with seven seconds remaining to tie the game at 58 and to force the first overtime game played at Lee Amphitheater this season.
“We got a little flustered and didn’t take care of the ball at the end,” Flato said. “In the crucial moments in the game, we just didn’t execute as well as we should have.”
Prospects looked promising for Yale as Flato drilled another trey to kick the overtime period off in style. Unfortunately, Zeglinski answered right back, making three consecutive foul shots after being fouled on a three-point attempt. A Bulldog turnover on the next possession led to an offensive rebound and put-back for Zeglinski, who scored seven of his 17 in overtime to give the Hawks a 63-61 lead. The Holmes twins rattled off four straight points to put the Elis back on top, but Yale’s inability to come up with defensive rebounds in the final minutes sealed their fate. After senior forward Alex Zimnickas made the first of two foul shots, the Hawks came up with back-to-back offensive rebounds, and Zeglinski finished the game with another pair of foul shots to down the Bulldogs.
“We definitely made a bunch of strides,” Flato said. “We feel like we played a really good game against Hartford, so the loss wasn’t really that discouraging.”
Yale will have to wait until Dec. 28th for an opportunity to redeem its loss and have a chance at getting back on the winning track. Team players said they are excited at the prospect of a two-week break to help turn things around.
“We’re looking forward to it,” guard Chris Andrews ’09 said. “It will be a chance for us to regroup and really evaluate where we are as a team and where we want to be.”