With 10.8 seconds left and the Bulldogs (1-5, 0-0 Ivy) trailing by one, guard Eric Flato ’08 drove the ball upcourt. But Wagner’s Mark Porter stole the ball out of Flato’s hands just before the final buzzer, foiling the men’s basketball team’s comeback attempt and putting an exclamation point on a 71-68 Wagner (5-2) victory.
Saturday’s heartbreaker extended the Elis’ losing streak to five, a month before the crucial Ivy League schedule begins.
“It’s a really long season,” forward Ross Morin ’09 said. “It’s still pretty early. We just have to keep giving a consistent effort in practice and work hard, and the games will come easier. We will get better.”
The teams swapped leads coming out of the gates until a good defensive board from center Paul Nelson ’10 led to a three-pointer by guard Alex Zampier ’10 that broke a 9-9 tie and gave the Elis a lead they would only concede for about a minute and a half before the break.
The Elis were fairly dominant in the first period, attaining a seven-point lead about 15 minutes in and heading into halftime ahead, 38-34.
Yale’s guards played commandingly against the Seawolves on Saturday. The Elis had 17 assists and only 14 turnovers, a marked improvement over the 5-15 and 8-18 ratios the team posted against UCLA (9-0) and Holy Cross (6-1), respectively, earlier in the season.
Guard Caleb Holmes ’08 racked up 11 points in the first period but failed to find the basket in the second.
“I just didn’t get the same looks in the second half,” he said. “We had some good penetration in the first.”
The Bulldogs’ luck also changed after the break, as the Seawolves shot to a 10-3 start in the second half to seize the lead out of the Elis’ hands.
The 10-point run lit a spark under the Wagner offense, and the four Seawolves with double-digit scoring totals racked up 31 points in the second versus 26 in the first. The Seawolves’ 16 second half points inside the paint doubled the Bulldogs’ eight.
“We did a poor job containing their penetration, which was key in the second half,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “That’s why we tried to switch to zone, but they still got us.”
Yale attempted to use its 2-3 zone formation to keep the ball away from tough post players Durell Vinson and James Ulrich. But Wagner’s dynamic offense worked around the zone defending.
The Elis were able to hold their ground for most of the afternoon against a potent offensive effort by the Seawolves. Morin’s 14-point showing was only inhibited by a sidelining nose injury that continued to bleed throughout the game. Guard Nick Holmes ’08 and center Matt Kyle ’08 posted 10 points each, and Zampier and Caleb Holmes notched 11 apiece.
As the game wound down, a palpable tension filled the Lee Amphitheatre. The loud crowd fell completely silent on each of the Elis’ 12 attempted free throws with less than 15 minutes to play.
With 13 shots made from the charity stripe, the home team fought back from a seven-point deficit to tie the game at 2:35 after a Nick Holmes jumper assisted by Caleb Holmes knotted the score at 64.
The remaining two-and-a-half minutes saw the two teams score a combined 11 points in a back-and-forth battle. The Bulldogs were awarded the ball after a Wagner offensive foul with 10.8 seconds on the clock — and then the Seawolves literally stole the victory from Flato’s deft hands.
“I thought that Yale was the best basketball team we would play,” Wagner head coach Mike Deane said. “They’re going to prove that to the rest of the Ivy League.”