Close, but not close enough.
In a rarity, the Bulldogs hosted a major conference team at the John J. Lee Amphitheater for the 2008 men’s basketball season opener and almost pulled off an early upset. For the second consecutive season, Yale took the court against Pac-10 perennial power Stanford, and like last season in Palo Alto, Calif., the Cardinal pulled away in the second half on the way to a 75-67 victory in front of an electric sellout crowd of 2,532 on Friday night.
“We have great fans and when they come out it’s really awesome,” captain and forward Ross Morin ’09 said. “Add on the fact that it was our season opener and we’ve been waiting to play for a year, and it was a great atmosphere.”
The Bulldogs (0-1, 0-0 Ivy) held their own against the Pac-10 powerhouse, holding a one-point lead with 19 minutes remaining, but ultimately could not keep up with the Cardinal. Stanford (1-0) eventually built a lead as large as 13 behind Anthony Goods’ 14 second-half points, which included three consecutive three-point shots in less than two minutes. The nine point run extended the Stanford lead to nine with 11:34 remaining in the contest.
“That was huge because it showed our guys that we could get those looks and knock them down,” first-year Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins said after his first victory.
The Bulldogs cut the lead to as little as four with 6:47 on the clock but could not claw their way back.
Goods finished the contest with 19 points, while senior forward Lawrence Hill led all scorers and recorded a double-double scoring 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Guard Alex Zampier ’10 led the Elis with 16 points and Morin added 12 points and 11 rebounds. But those 12 points didn’t come easy for the captain. Morin, Yale’s top scorer last season, had an uncharacteristic tough time from the field. He shot just 6-of-16, or 37.5 percent, a stark difference from the 57 percent he shot for the season last year.
Guard Raffi Mantilla ’11 added ten points off the bench for the Elis.
The Bulldogs out-rebounded the athletic Stanford squad 44 to 34, but had trouble shooting all night.
Yale shot 44.4 percent from the field, but free-throw and three-point shooting is what did the team in. The Bulldogs were just 4-of-15 (27 percent) from downtown and 7-of-16 (43.8 percent) at the line.
With the graduation of three sharpshooters last May — captain and guard Eric Flato ’08, guard Caleb Holmes ’08 and forward Nick Holmes ’08 — shooting will be a question mark for the Elis this season. Add that to the new distance of 20 ft., 9 in. for the three-point line and head coach James Jones knows his team cannot lean on the three like in years past.
Stanford quickly noticed that and went into a 2-3 zone with just over five minutes left in the first half after beginning the game playing man-to-man defense. The switch was effective and the Bulldogs had some trouble with the adjustment.
“I don’t think we attacked the zone that well,” Jones said.
While the Elis were unable to take advantage of opportunities at the free throw line, the Cardinal kept their lead with solid free-throw shooting. Stanford converted 15-of-22 (68.2 percent) shots from the line in the second half.
“Hard to win the close games when you don’t make free throws, bottom line,” Jones said. “You can’t win close games without making free throws. You’re either going to be up by 15 and it isn’t going to matter or you’re going to have to make free throws to win.”
Yale was not helped by foul trouble for one of the its two returning All-Ivy performers. Forward Travis Pinick ’09 picked up two early offensive follows and found himself on the bench throughout the contest. Pinick played just 16 minutes and eventually fouled out with 3:02 remaining. The Orange, Calif., native finished with eight points and three rebounds.
“What’s sad is that no one saw how good Travis Pinick is tonight because he wasn’t on the floor very often,” Jones said. “When he was, especially defensively, he kind of was a little tentative because he was in foul trouble.”
Even with the shooting difficulties and foul trouble, the Bulldogs stayed in the game with the aforementioned rebound advantage — 14 offensive rebounds led to an abundance of second-chance opportunities.
“I certainly thought our guys hung in,” Jones said. “One of my assistant coaches just made the point that we could’ve let this one get away and lost by 20 but we kept fighting.”
No loss is a good one, but the Bulldogs will look to take positives out of this opener as they head into a long season.
“It’s hard to take a loss positively; it’s a loss so it’s a loss,” Morin said. “That being said, we have a couple days to work before our next game and it’s early in the season.”
The squad next takes the court on Tuesday night when they travel to Vermont (0-1). The Catamounts are coming off a one-point overtime loss at home against George Mason (1-0) in its opener.