Coach James Jones and his players knew Wagner was a quick and athletic, albeit undersized, team with the ability to drive to the rim — a danger in man-to-man defense. The challenge for the men’s basketball team was to offset the resulting disadvantages.
The easy solution would have been a zone defense, which would have forced the Seahawks to shoot from the perimeter. Problem was, Wagner wasn’t all that bad at that, either — it was up to Jones to pick his poison.
After going into the intermission with a four-point lead Saturday, the Bulldogs quickly found themselves down, 53-46 — their biggest deficit of the game — eight minutes into the second half. Jones switched his team’s defense from a man-to-man to a 2-3 zone in the hopes of stopping the Seahawk attack.
“We tried to switch up to a zone to contain dribble penetration,” the eighth-year coach said. “For the most part, keeping the ball in front of us was difficult.”
The adjustment did little to slow down the Seahawks, who went on to shoot 60 percent from the field in the second half and 54.7 percent for the game.
Wagner did not seem to have trouble with the zone and was able to penetrate the zone’s gaps and shoot over the 2-3. The Seahawks were three for six behind the arc in the second half, including a crucial three-pointer by senior guard Mark Porter that gave the Seahawks a 67-64 lead with 2:14 remaining. Porter went on to finish with 15 points and seven assists.
The Bulldogs’ bread-and-butter defense is their man-to-man setup. But the team will need to make adjustments against athletic teams coming up on the schedule, including the No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks.
After being dominated by Holy Cross last Wednesday while playing without starting center Matt Kyle ’08, the Bulldogs realized how valuable Kyle is down low for them — another big man will need to step up when Kyle is not on the court.
On Saturday afternoon, the 1,120 in attendance caught a glimpse of just that.
With Kyle coming off the bench, Ross Morin ’09 filled in admirably. The 6-7 forward finished the contest with season highs of 14 points and six rebounds, going six for eight from the field in 27 minutes of action.
“Ross was solid,” Jones said. “We’ve asked him to rebound more this year, and his numbers are up.”
The Cincinnati native could have done more had it not been for a blow to the face he received early in the second half. Morin was forced to leave the game on two occasions with a bloody nose but came back into the game with a nostril plugged. He was forced to leave the court briefly late in the second half when his nose started bleeding again.
Kyle first came off the bench with three minutes into the game and played 21 minutes. After a sluggish start, with a turnover on his first touch and a missed shot down low, he was able to finish with 10 points and four rebounds — a promising sign for the Bulldogs, who will need as many big bodies as they can get in the coming weeks as they begin their Ivy League schedule.
Captain Eric Flato ’08 has not had the start many envisioned heading into the season, and the team’s leading scorer and assist man last season (15.3 points, 3.6 assists per game) continued to struggle on Saturday. The preseason Ivy League Player of the Year favorite had a season-low five points, hitting just one of his seven field-goal attempts and committing five turnovers.
Through six games this season, the Piedmont, Calif. native is averaging 10.7 points per game, compared to the 14.3 he averaged at this point during his junior season.
While Flato has not performed to his potential, the three other guards who garner substantial minutes have stepped up. Caleb Holmes ’08 is the team’s second leading scorer (11.3 points per game), while twin brother Nick is fifth (6.8 points). Alex Zampier ’10 has provided a steady contribution off the bench, averaging 7.3 points per contest.
Yale has the same record it did this time last season (1-5). But the path to their record this year has been very different.
Yale’s schedule is the 13th-toughest in the nation, and the Bulldogs have already played two teams that have been ranked at some point this season. The Bulldogs’ margin of defeat, 15.6 points per game, is larger than it was last year, when it stood at 9.2.