The season is young, but the men’s basketball team may be in the midst of one of the most crucial stretches of the season.
The Elis (2-5, 0-0 Ivy) continue their season at home on Saturday against the Vermont Catamounts (2-5) in a game that could further Yale’s rebound from a difficult start to the year. After losses to several of the country’s best teams, the Bulldogs could use wins against Vermont — followed by struggling Boston University (2-6) next Tuesday — before traveling to No. 4 Kansas over winter break.
The Bulldogs are fresh off a dramatic 70-66 overtime win on the road Tuesday night at Fairfield. The game was tight throughout, but Yale managed to come out on top thanks to some clutch play from two of its seniors.
With 15 seconds left on the clock, Caleb Holmes ’08 hit a clutch three-pointer to tie the game at 60 and set the stage for overtime. Eric Flato ’08 then scored six of his 11 points in the extra period, including four free throws, to clinch the victory.
“It’s always good to win, but it’s also about how well we’re playing,” head coach James Jones said. “We’ve played well the past two games, even though one was a loss to Wagner.”
The Catamounts are coming off a Nov. 30 blowout loss to the two-time defending national champion Florida Gators in St. Petersburg, Fla.
While the Bulldogs have faced stiff competition on the road through their first seven games, the Catamounts have had their share of quality opponents away from Vermont — including George Mason and Virginia, in addition to the Gators. The Catamounts have also lost to two less impressive teams, Dartmouth and Loyola, Md.
But Jones is not taking Saturday’s contest lightly. Jones said he was particularly impressed by Vermont’s junior co-captain and starting point guard Mike Trimboli after briefly scouting the Catamounts on Wednesday. The 2007 America East first-teamer and Norwalk, Conn. native is averaging 18.6 points and a team-high 4.6 assists per game.
Vermont is also led on the court by sophomore forward Marques Blakely. The athletic 6-5 slasher leads the team in scoring and rebounding, with 19.4 and 8.4 per game, respectively.
Jones is also keeping an eye on Vermont’s defensive set.
“They play a 1-3-1 zone, and we really haven’t faced that yet this season,” he said. “We’ll have to prepare for that.”
After a rough five-game losing streak, the Bulldogs are looking to carry their newfound momentum from Tuesday night into Saturday’s contest. Jones said the Bulldogs did a good job Tuesday of being patient on offense and taking good shots, which he said prevented the Stags from converting easy transition baskets.
With several players, including Flato, in foul trouble in the first half against Fairfield, more Eli bench players than normal saw action.
“Everyone on the team can play a role and contribute when their name is called,” reserve forward Josh Davis ’10 said. “When we go in, we’re expected to do just as well as the starters. Every good team has a strong bench. You can’t expect the starters to play 40 minutes.”
Although Yale started off the season with a large number of contests against some of the nation’s best, the Bulldogs are not done facing top teams. Yale heads to Lawrence, Kan. — Jayhawk country — to face Kansas on Dec. 29. The Elis were blown out by the Jayhawks in January 2006, 86-47.
But many players seem unfazed by the tough schedule.
“Our schedule this year is exactly what we need,” Flato said in an e-mail. “It prepares us for the Ivy League. Nobody on our team is worried about our record. We struggled early on last season also but clicked in the second half of the season and won 10 of our last 14 games.”
The Bulldogs got off to a similarly rough start last season, beginning the season 1-6. But Yale was able to right the ship during the Ivy League season, going 10-4 and falling just short of a bid to the NCAA Tournament.