While the Cornell men’s basketball team spent the weekend clinching the Ivy League title, the Yale men fought to hold on to fifth place in the conference with another split weekend.
The two games with the Killer Ps this weekend typified the Elis’ troubles with consistency throughout the season. The roller coaster of a weekend saw the strength of an eight-point, 67-59 victory on senior night undermined by defeat at the hands of the Quakers, 70-63, the night before.
The Elis’ defensive woes have plagued the squad on and off this year, but the problem reared its head in the contest with Penn, a rematch of the game Yale lost two weeks ago at the Palestra.
“I thought we were a day late and a dollar short on everything,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “They executed just about anything they wanted to, and we did a poor job defending in the first half.”
The Bulldogs’ poor first-half defense was the nail in the coffin Friday night. Penn head coach Glen Miller said the men from Philadelphia played their best half of the season in the opening 20 at the John J. Lee Amphitheater because they took advantage of the Elis’ defensive lapses.
The Bulldogs conceded 31 points in the opening stanza of the 70-63 loss to Penn, allowing Quaker guard Brian Grandieri free reign from the arc: The Quaker captain sank three of three shots from downtown. The home team also ran into trouble by allowing the Quakers 10 points off turnovers in the half.
The Elis avoided a blowout by emerging from an 18-point halftime deficit to chip away at the Penn lead and eventually come within two points after a pair of free throws from guard Caleb Holmes ’08 at the 2:41 mark.
“We just executed more,” forward Ross Morin ’09 said of the second half. “When we stick to our offense, we can get good shots out of it, and we did that in the second half.”
But a pair of 16-point efforts from Morin and Caleb Holmes, as well as 13 points from captain and guard Eric Flato ’08, was not enough to pull out a win against the Quakers. Grandieri recorded a double-double, and his perfect percentage from beyond the arc was well over his usual 30-percent efficiency.
Saturday’s senior-night game was further proof that the Elis suffer from inconsistencies on the court. After Friday’s disappointing defeat, the Bulldogs took the court with energy and drive and held onto an easy six-point lead through the period.
“I thought we defended better in the first half,” Jones said. “But we just fouled them. If we could have done a better job without fouling them, we would have been able to push out a lead and help our momentum in the game.”
The aggressive Elis ran into some trouble in the waning minutes of the game, when the fouls started to pile up. Forward Nick Holmes ’08, who finished with 11 points, and forward Travis Pinick ’09, who reeled off 15 points, were cut off when they fouled out. Yale allowed the Tigers 26 attempts from the charity stripe, with 18 coming after the break.
For the first time in five games, the Bulldogs were able to overcome their defensive deficiencies to top Princeton, 67-59, and snap a four-game losing streak. Four Elis notched 11 or more points, and a double-double from Pinick helped the home team out-rebound an opponent for the first time in almost a month.
“I think [Princeton] got more out of their offensive rebounds in the first half,” Caleb Holmes said of the six Tiger boards. “That’s the first time we’ve out rebounded somebody for a long time, so that definitely helped.”
The Bulldogs moved the ball well around the Princeton defenders. Pinick and Morin rang up team-high five- and four- assist games, respectively. The juniors’ ability to find each other accounted for 10 points between the two.
“I didn’t have a good game last night [against Penn], and I just wanted to send the seniors off right and play hard for them,” Pinick said of his effort.
The Bulldogs still face a pair of away games, during which they will have to overcome streaky, inconsistent defense to grab another two wins against Dartmouth and Harvard.