When the men’s basketball team got off to a 20-4 start against Dartmouth on Saturday night, the Bulldogs’ 180-degree turnaround was complete.
Yale (9-11, 3-3) ended a three-game skid with a pair of conference victories at home over rival Harvard (6-16, 1-5) and Dartmouth (8-12, 1-5 Ivy). The Elis topped Harvard 83-70 on Friday in front of a sea of blue-clad fans whose energy radiated throughout the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
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“You see all your friends in the crowd cheering for you and you just want to make sure you play well for them, and for your team as well. It’s just a great atmosphere,” center Matt Kyle ’08 said.
On Saturday night, the Big Green stood no chance — the Elis took control at the outset before going on to win 97-58.
Against the Crimson, the loud crowd fired up the Bulldogs from the get-go, but the game was evenly matched for about 12 minutes in the first half. Guard Alex Zampier ’10 then stole the ball for the first of three times and raced it across the floor for a dunk at the other end. The crowd went wild and the Elis held on to the lead for all but 10 seconds of the rest of the game.
“I was just trying to take what the defense was giving me,” said Zampier, who scored a career- and team-high 18 points. “It’s always good to have a good crowd behind us.”
The Bulldogs went on a tear through the rest of the opening half and converted 14 steals into 27 points. The squad shot from all over the court with equal ease and drove the ball inside with the same success as it did from the perimeter.
The thunderous crowd got a treat when captain and guard Eric Flato ’08 — who recovered from a bad streak last week by scoring 11 points — launched a shot from beyond the arc that found the net right at the buzzer. As soon as the three-pointer sank in, the crowd erupted.
“They’ve done a nice job to create a home-court environment,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought they gave their team a great boost.”
In the second period, speedy guard Porter Braswell ’11 flaunted his skills on the court with four consecutive layups to rack up 12 points on the game. Excellent Eli offense out-matched the Cantabs’ solid effort and Braswell’s final shot — a one-handed toss on a drive inside that magically found the basket with 1:20 left — was part of Friday’s slew of converted field goals.
Guard Caleb Holmes ’08, one of several players who struggled last weekend against Cornell and Columbia, had a stellar weekend, with 26 points against both Ivy foes.
“We dug ourselves a pretty big hole here — we’re gonna have to come out every night and improve,” Holmes said. “It felt great tonight. I still struggled with my shot a little, but every time I shot, it felt like it was going to go in.”
The Elis topped their own performance by improving Saturday night against the Big Green.
Kyle had not been able to recreate his career-high 22-point, 10-board effort in the season-opener until his breakout performance against Dartmouth on Saturday. He helped the Bulldogs race to a 16-point lead with seven easy points before scoring a game-high 19.
The Bulldogs led from the starting whistle and never looked back at the flailing visitors. At one point in the game, the home team tripled the Big Green’s score, leading 31-10 after Flato scored a 3-pointer. According to Yale head coach James Jones, the effort was pure teamwork.
“I thought our guys really shared the basketball,” he said. “They enjoyed passing the basketball to the guy who scored as much as they enjoyed shooting and making the shot.”
Good team chemistry around the perimeter on a play before the break reinvigorated the team for the rest of the game. Zampier slung a quick pass around to Flato, who got it in to forward Travis Pinick ’09 for an easy layup.
In the second half, the Bulldogs kept up the slew of baskets, building on their momentum and leading by as much as 44 at one point. The squad — led by Pinick, who had four grabs — blocked six shots and stole the ball 11 times.
“I was just being aggressive, knowing my teammates had my back,” Pinick said. “I was trying to use my quickness to my advantage and just go out being aggressive and use my athleticism.”
The Elis rounded out their effort with a layup by guard Chris Andrews ’09 — a fan favorite who has been out with ACL injuries for two years — on an assist by guard Ari Greenberg ’09. The Bulldogs’ 97 points are the most the team has scored in an Ivy match since a game against Harvard in 1991.