With only six games left on the docket, the time has come for the Bulldogs to prove whether their 6-2 mark is the start of something special or just the product of some early season luck.
Entering the second half of the season after incurring its first defeat in almost three weeks, the men’s basketball team (10-11, 6-2 Ivy) will have to work hard to ensure that their best league start in half a decade does not go to waste. Last weekend’s heartbreaking one-point loss at the hands of second-place Cornell (13-9, 6-2) served as a reminder for the Bulldogs that staying on top in the Ivy League is no easy feat. The Elis hope to distance themselves from the pack and perhaps regain their first place standing when they kick off a four-game homestand this weekend, playing host to Dartmouth (8-13, 3-5) and Harvard (10-12, 3-5) — two mediocre teams with sub-500 records.
If recent history is any indication, Yale may very well accomplish its goals this weekend. The Bulldogs handily defeated both teams on the road earlier this season and have fared remarkably well against the Ancient Eight rivals at home over the past few years. The Big Green and Crimson have combined for 15 consecutive losses in New Haven, neither team having won at Lee Amphitheater since 2003.
Earlier this year, the Bulldogs recorded their first victory at Hanover’s Leede Arena since 2002, downing the Big Green in impressive fashion. The game was close throughout, but the Bulldogs’ solid all-around play and balanced attack allowed them to pull away in the final minutes for the 71-64 victory. Point guard Eric Flato ’08 led the way with 20 points, while guard Caleb Holmes ’08 added 17 more. The Eli bench played a significant role in the win, outscoring Dartmouth’s supporting cast, 14-2, and seven Bulldogs had at least four rebounds.
A similar story unraveled when Yale traveled to Cambridge. Four Bulldog starters registered double-digit scoring nights and the Yale bench almost doubled Harvard’s bench output. The Elis shot a scorching 58 percent from the field and drilled their final 19 foul shots to down the Crimson for the 12th time in 15 contests. Luckily, Yale does not have to contend with Harvard big man Brian Cusworth, who tallied an impressive 28 points and 10 rebounds for the Crimson last time around. Cusworth is no longer with the team because of eligibility issues.
“It’s definitely a little different the second time around,” Flato said. “We beat them up at their place so they’re going to want a little revenge.”
Yale enters this weekend’s play having won eight of its last 11 games. The team’s recent loss against Cornell was not a result of lack of effort, but simply an inability to close out the game in the final minutes. A late Eli foul, combined with a pair of missed foul shots in the final seconds mounted to a rare late-game slipup by the Bulldogs, snapping their five-game winning streak.
“Every game is a different game,” head coach James Jones said. “Once this weekend gets started, the Cornell game will be left behind. There’s nothing we can do about that right now, except to go out and play well this weekend.”
After posting a career-high 26 points against Columbia and following it up with a game-high 18 against the Big Red, Flato was named co-Ivy League Player of the Week, along with Brown’s Mark McAndrew. Through eight league games, Flato ranks second in the Ancient Eight, averaging 17.3 points a game, while leading the Elis in assists, three-pointers made and steals.
After crossing the midway point in the Ivy League season, every game becomes increasingly important, and team members said they recognize the long-term implications of this weekend.
“We just need to take it one game at a time,” Holmes said. “We know that we control our own destiny and we need to take care of business this weekend.”