Defensive lapses cost the men’s basketball team any remaining hope of an Ivy League title.
“It’s been our Achilles heel all year,” Yale head coach James Jones said about the Elis’ defense. “The problem is that it hasn’t been consistent.”
Yale (10-13, 4-5 Ivy) suffered a pair of crushing road losses at the hands of Cornell (17-5, 9-0) and Columbia (12-12, 5-4), falling below .500 in the Ivy League and statistically removing themselves from the title race. The Big Red topped the Elis 85-65 on Friday and the Lions took a 68-62 victory the following night.
Up in Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell proved why they have a firm hold on the top slot in conference standings. The Elis held on to a tight lead to lead at the half, 39-36, helped by 12 bench points and a respectable 9-5 assist to turnover ratio.
But the resilient Big Red refused to surrender their first league loss and scored 49 points in the second stanza to eventually record their 11th consecutive win. Cornell’s sure-shooting guard Adam Gore notched 15 of a game-high 18 points in the last 20 minutes — he sunk four shots from beyond the arc and topped off the effort with a free throw trifecta.
“We controlled the first half, then struggled on defense,” Jones said. “We let them get offensive rebounds and in the second we had defensive lapses. The defense fell apart.”
The poor second half defense by the Elis allowed the Big Red to define the pace of the game and take a resounding 20-point lead.
Against the Lions the next day, the Bulldogs again lost control of the game because of a struggling defense and dropped a game they could have won.
“Tonight was a step in the right direction in fixing what was wrong,” forward Ross Morin ’09 said after the Columbia game. “We had some opportunities to stay in the gaame and we missed some tough shots and rushed a few passes and we couldn’t convert.”
The Elis kept pace for a second night in a row until Columbia’s Niko Scott tied the contest at 42 in the ninth minute of the second half with an easy jumper. From that point, the Lions were unfailing and the Bulldogs’ hapless offense shot just 33 percent from the field, with only 2-13 three-pointers converted and five missed free throws.
The flailing offense was matched on the other end of the court with a defense that allowed star forward John Baumann 25 points and seven team points off five turnovers.
“It’s tough to run around and chase off screens when you’re not scoring as a team,” captain and guard Eric Flato ’08 said about the team’s defensive troubles.
But the Lions did not go uncontested in the second half and the Bulldogs found a second wind to cut a late 11 point Columbia lead to just three with 1:53 left on the clock. The visitors quieted the heckling Lions fans with a pair of Caleb Holmes ’08 free throws and a great play from center Matt Kyle ’08. Kyle took a shot, missed, stole the ball from Baumann and turned it around for a quick layup before forward Nick Holmes ’08 sunk a three-pointer to cut the Lions lead to three.
But Columbia surged ahead as quickly as the Elis had cut the earlier lead. Columbia grabbed eight points to extend their lead again while the Bulldogs missed four shots from beyond the arc. The Lions led by nine before a last-ditch three-pointer from guard Alex Zampier ’10 closed out the scoring with five seconds on the clock.
“Our guys fought to the very end and we came back late and had a chance to win it tonight,” Jones said after the game.
The Elis have fallen to Columbia three games in a row, dating back to the second matchup of the 2006-’07 season, marking the only matches James Jones has lost to his younger brother Joe Jones in their tenures as Ivy League coaches. Since the 2004-’05 season, James Jones and the Elis took the first five games while the most recent three have gone to Joe Jones and the Lions. The pair is the only set of brothers to coach simultaneously in the Ancient Eight since 1928.
For the second weekend in a row the Bulldogs will return to New Haven with a pair of losses. Heading in to their final weekend at home, Yale seniors hope the streak will not have a lasting impact on their play.
“We’ll be pretty unaffected since it’s our senior weekend,” Flato said.
But Caleb Holmes disagreed: “It always does [affect us] — nobody wants to lose. But we’ve got four left and we want to end on a good note.”