Although they started four upperclassmen, the Bulldogs persistently made rookie mistakes en route to a 76-71 collapse against Brown last Saturday. The Elis’ miscues were exemplified by the confusion surrounding a late-game substitution involving captain Sam Kaplan ’07 and guard Alexander Zampier ’10, leaving the team with only four men on the court with the Bulldogs trailing 71-69. As a result, Brown quickly beat the Bulldogs’ full court press, and guard Damon Huffman hit a clinching three-pointer to ice the game.
The Bulldogs had no right to lose to Brown this weekend. When a team shoots 49 percent from the field, outrebounds its opponent 33-26, and outscores its competition 38-24 in the paint, it almost has to try to lose.
In the first half, the Bears’ largest lead was two points, and the Elis never led by fewer than five following Caleb Holmes’s three-pointer with 7:23 remaining. Over both halves, the Elis led for a straight 20:37.
But in the second half, the wheels came unglued, beginning with a particularly ugly two-minute sequence. Nick Holmes ’08 subbed in for twin brother Caleb with 14:25 left to play and the Bulldogs quickly expanded their lead to nine, looking primed to put the game away. Instead, Bears guard Damon Huffman stole the ball twice from Holmes and the Bears capitalized on his three turnovers and two fouls for six easy points. The mental lapses on offense shifted the game’s momentum and led to a collapse on the defensive end as well.
“We took a couple of quick shots right after halftime,” Eric Flato ’08 said. “We got out of sorts a little bit on offense, and that led to us getting out of sorts on defense.”
On an afternoon where everything went wrong for the Bulldogs, even Brown’s mistakes seemed to turn out well for them. Brown head coach Craig Robinson picked up his second technical foul with 7:50 left in the game, allowing the Bulldogs to retake the lead after Flato sank both free throws. The rookie head coach, who happens to be Sen. Barack Obama’s brother-in-law, denied that the ejection was a motivational ploy, but the Bears immediately responded to their coach getting thrown out.
“Sometimes you try to get tossed to get your team fired up, but that was not my intention here,” Robinson said.
Following Robinson’s ejection, Brown took what was then its largest lead of the game at 63-59. The Elis got away from driving the lane and working the ball inside and settled for jumpers. When the Bulldogs started to feed the ball into the post to forwards Ross Morin ’09 and Sam Kaplan ‘07, they came back and took the lead. Morin kept the Elis in the game with two clutch baskets and a huge block and Kaplan’s lay-up with 2:00 remaining gave the Elis a 67-66 advantage.
The next sequence of plays was like deja vu. Nick Holmes had possession of the ball with 1:20 left in the game and the Bulldogs were down 67-69. Instead of taking advantage of an opportunity to tie the game, the Bulldogs watched helplessly as Huffman pickpocketed Holmes for the third time and fed Bears guard Mark McAndrew for an easy layup that gave Brown their largest lead of the day. Huffman then hit a three-pointer that effectively sealed the game with 0:29 remaining.
“The turnovers cost us,” head coach James Jones said. “They turned our turnovers into points. That’s something that hurt us in the basketball game.”
When it comes down to final minutes of the game, the Bulldogs simply couldn’t execute. The Bears, despite being outplayed for most of the game, came through when it mattered the most and capitalized on a myriad of Eli mistakes.
With last Saturday’s 76-71 implosion against Brown, Yale squandered an opportunity to keep pace with Penn as the Ivy League’s sole undefeated team in conference play. Instead, at 1-1, the Bulldogs remain in a four-way tie for third place. If the Elis want to win the Ivy League title this year, these are exactly the kinds of games that they’ll have to win.