With 5:29 left in the game in Palo Alto, Calif., on Nov. 20, 2007, the men’s basketball team was down five points to Stanford. Forward Ross Morin ’09 had just dunked to cap a 5-0 run by the Elis, winnowing down 10-point Cardinal lead in a little over a minute. Stanford responded quickly with their own 5-0 run in the next minute, though, pushing the lead back to 10 points. The Bulldogs would never get closer than five for the rest of the game — final score Stanford 72, Yale 61.
Fast forward to John J. Lee Amphitheater on Friday. The Bulldogs were down six points with 5:29 left to play. The Cardinal lead had been as many as nine in the half, with the visitor’s lead gradually rising. Like a year earlier, Stanford responded to this narrow deficit with a back-breaking 7-0 run over the next three minutes, blowing open the game — final score Stanford 75, Yale 67.
On the surface, the resemblance between the two games is uncanny. Both had similar margins of defeat for the Elis, while also possessing almost exactly the same turning point. Indeed, it seems like history repeated itself and that this year’s version of the men’s basketball team is no different than last year’s. While the outcomes do point to that conclusion, an analysis of the two games point to the differences in what happened on the court — differences that might point to more success for the Bulldogs the rest of the season.
A first change would be the large difference in three-point shooting between the two games. In Palo Alto, the Elis nailed nine threes for the game at a sizzling 47.4 percent. In particular, a second-half performance of 7-for-11 from beyond the three-point stripe largely served to keep the Bulldogs in a game where the Cardinal led by as many as 15 in the second half, threatening to pull away.
In comparison, the Bulldogs struggled shooting threes on Friday to the tune of 26.7 percent for the game. While some might attribute the struggles to adjustment to the new three-point line distance, several players noted that this was a demonstration of a philosophical change by the team. Being less dependent on the outside shot will allow the Elis to score more consistently throughout the season.
“Last year we relied a lot on our outside shooting to keep us in the game,” forward Travis Pinick ’09 said. “This year we were able to pressure them better.”
Defense was indeed an Eli strength this game, as the Bulldogs forced the Cardinal to slow the pace and look for outside shots. The frontcourt effectively guarded the basket against Stanford, holding their starting posts, Lawrence Hill and Josh Owens, to 30 points combined. This compares to a year before when Lawrence Hill and Robin Lopez combined for 49 points in dominating the Bulldog frontline. In that game, Stanford won the rebound advantage 35-21, but on Friday it was the Elis who won the battle, 44-33.
While the absence of Phoenix Suns draft pick Lopez surely makes a difference, it should not take away from the strong performance by a young Eli frontcourt.
“[The frontcourt] held their own and they outplayed Stanford,” guard Porter Braswell ’11 said. “[The Cardinal] are not as big as last year, but our frontcourt did a great job.”
The Bulldogs’ new, more aggressive, attacking style also played out as advertised in the game. Before the game, players said they were going to use screens to drive to the basketball, while also focusing on working the ball to the post. Pushing the ball on the break, the Elis want to get to the rim rather than spot up for threes.
“We need to score inside better than we did [last year],” Morin said. “Now instead of coming off screens for outside shots, the big guys are setting cross screens inside and looking for high and low passes.”
The Bulldogs’ drives to the basket resulted in a tremendous improvement in free throws shot between the two games. While they struggled shooting from the line on Friday, the 16 free throw attempts were far better than seven free throws shot by the Bulldogs a year prior. The free throw line offers the easiest points in basketball, and if the Elis can keep this trend up, it will further prevent them from any future scoring woes.
Déjà vu of last season? The answer is no. In the end, this edition of the Bulldog basketball team is far different, offering hopes of more a successful season.