Traveling through New York State this weekend, the men’s basketball team used a mixture of sharp shooting and unwavering resolve to prove they could hold their own on at any venue. Unfortunately, the Elis came up just short of their third consecutive weekend sweep, snapping their five-game winning streak, and in the process, dropping from their rank as top dog in the Ivy League.
After trailing for the majority of the first half against Columbia (14-9, 4-4 Ivy), the Bulldogs (10-11, 6-2) stunned the Levien Gym home crowd by putting on an offensive clinic in the second, connecting on an incredible 78 percent of their second half shot attempts on their way to an 85-71 dismantling of the Lions.
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Regrettably, Yale was not able to carry its sizzling shooting performance to start Saturday’s contest against Cornell (13-9, 6-2), making only 35 percent of its shots and missing all 10 of its first-half three-pointer attempts to fall 15 points behind early in the game. Once again, the Bulldogs refused to back down without a fight and clawed their way back to take the lead late in the game, only to falter in the final minute, coming up on the wrong side of a 60-59 heartbreaker.
Yale wasted no time establishing itself early in the Columbia game, running off the game’s first 10 points to jump out to an early 17-4 advantage. But the Lions would not be silenced so easily in front of their home crowd, roaring back with a 15-0 run of their own en route to a 40-36 halftime lead.
The game remained close until the Bulldogs’ offensive explosion midway through the second half. Yale appeared unstoppable during a four-minute stretch in which it ran off 18 straight points, demoralizing both Columbia and its home crowd. All in all, the Elis would convert 14 of their 18 second half shot attempts on their way to 49 second-half points.
“We had some big runs that won us the game,” point guard Eric Flato ’08 said. “Our three-point shooting really got us going.”
Backcourt mates Flato and Caleb Holmes ’08 combined for more than half of the Elis’ point total. Flato poured in a career-high 26 points on 4-of-8 from behind the arc and 10-11 from the line, while Holmes efficiently added 20 of his own on 5-for-6 shooting from the field and 3-for-3 from downtown.
“In the first half, we ran a lot of sets without getting much out of them,” Holmes said. “We started to move the ball a lot better and hit some shots in the second.”
With the victory, head coach James Jones became just the fourth Yale coach to accumulate 100 wins, doing so against his younger brother Joe.
But Jones will have to wait until next week for an opportunity at 101, after the Bulldogs dropped a nail-biter in Ithaca.
It was Cornell that jumped out to an early 17-4 advantage Saturday night, making good on its first five shots, including three three-pointers. The Big Red would extend their lead to 15, riling up the crowd of almost 3,500, before the Elis began to fight their way back, closing to within seven after the first 20 minutes of play.
“Obviously to start the game we didn’t have the same energy as we did against Columbia,” Jones said. “Missing shots early hurt our confidence and it took us a while to get it back.”
Cornell extended its lead once again, behind the fine play of senior forward Andrew Naeve, who finished the game with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Big Red. Just as it appeared the game was slipping away, Flato, who led all scorers with 18 points, drilled four second-half treys to spur a Bulldog charge that culminated in their first lead of the game with 1:29 left to play, 59-58. But a late Eli foul put 91-percent foul shooter Ryan Wittman on the line. The freshman standout calmly sunk both free throws, and Yale was not able to recover.
The loss drops the Bulldogs into a second-place tie with Cornell. The team hopes to regain its first place status next weekend, when it returns to Lee Amphitheater to host Dartmouth and Harvard.
“We’re not going to change anything,” Jones said. “I look forward to resuming our winning ways next weekend.”