The good stuff was indeed in the middle for the Bulldogs during their three-game swing over Thanksgiving.
The Bulldogs (1-4, 0-0 Ivy) started off their Thanksgiving road trip on Nov. 21, losing in blowout fashion, 77-58, to Portland (4-1). The Elis then won their first game of the season in a 53-52 upset win over Oregon State (1-4) in Corvallis, Ore., on Nov. 24.
Yale suffered another defeat on Sunday night, losing 63-57 to Sacred Heart (1-3), giving the Pioneers their first win of the season.
The Bulldogs had beaten Sacred Heart 82-71 in their season opener in New Haven last year, but fell to their neighbor in Fairfield, Conn., this time around. The Elis were down five at the half, and were able to tie the game at 39 with 12:03 left in the game. Sacred Heart then went on a 9-1 over the next three minutes to counter the Bulldogs’ charge.
The Elis came back again, though, tying the score again at 50 with 5:17 left. That was the closest the Bulldogs got the lead for the rest of the game as they eventually fell by six points.
Yale struggled again from the field, shooting 39.6 percent, including 4-21 from three-point range. The 21 three-point attempts mark a season high for the Bulldogs, who did not identify the shot as a strength before the season began. Subtracting out the three-point attempts, the Elis’ field goal percentage rises to 53.1 percent.
“[Sacred Heart] plays a [matchup zone] defense where they switch on all the ball screens, and the [three-point] shots were there and open all night,” guard Porter Braswell ’11 said. “The majority of them were just rimming out. Another inch or two to the right and they all fall.”
Critical in a close game, the Bulldogs were out-gained by seven rebounds on the offensive glass, giving the Pioneers seven extra possessions that ultimately resulted in their six-point victory.
“That was the difference in the game,” guard Chris Andrews ’09 said. “That is something that the coach harps on a lot — not rebounding well hurts our chances at winning games.”
Such shooting and rebounding struggles were not seen six days earlier when the team played at Oregon State. The win was the Elis first ever over a Pac-10 school after losing in their previous 15 attempts. The Bulldogs had to sweat out the victory watching the Beavers fail to score over the last 1:46, keeping the game at 53-52 Yale.
“Against Oregon State, everybody played well, which hasn’t happened in every single game,” Andrews said. “We rebounded and shot the ball well in that game, particularly from three-point range.”
Forward Travis Pinick ’09 keyed the upset for the Elis, scoring 12 points, grabbing six rebounds and nabbing three steals. Pinick also sealed the win with a block on Beaver forward Daniel Deane’s three-point attempt at the buzzer to ensure the Bulldogs’ first victory of the season.
Pinick’s stellar individual play was just a part of the great overall defensive effort for the Elis, one that held the Beavers to 43.8 percent shooting for the game and 1 for 13 from three-point range.
“We had four charges in the first 15 minutes — a real momentum killer for the other team,” center Garrett Fiddler ’11 said.
On the offensive side, the Bulldogs successfully managed the Beavers’ pressure defense, turning traps near the half-court line into easy baskets at the rim.
“We played well against their pressuring 1-3-1 trapping zone,” Fiddler said. “It is a very front-loaded defense, and if you can get it past the frontline, you can get easy shots.”
Oregon State is coached by Craig Robinson, who was Brown’s head coach last season, and should have been well-prepared for the Elis. The advanced scouting was no help to the Beavers, though, who have only one win on the season and appear to be heading into the cellar of the Pac-10.
The Bulldogs’ win in Corvallis, Ore., was a positive response to their disappointment against Portland three days prior, where a very solid Pilot team dominated the game from start to finish.
“I felt like we came out strong the first few minutes, but then in the middle of the first half, we lost our energy and we had a few defensive lapses,” Fiddler said. “For the rest of the game we were playing catch-up.”
The Elis shot only 35.4 percent against the Pilots, with the struggles continuing at the free-throw line — the Bulldogs only converted at 66.7 percent. The margin of the loss was a particular disappointment in light of the Bulldogs’ 18-point victory during last season’s home matchup against Portland.
Despite the large losses, the Elis said they are able to maintain perspective, which helped them come back with a win against Oregon State.
“That’s the nature of the game,” Andrews said. “We play 30 some-odd games all a couple days separated and view each game as a completely different situation; the last game is history.”
Looking ahead, the Bulldogs plan to make adjustments to their opponents’ strategies and improve their offensive and defensive execution in hope of more victories.
“Teams know that we are trying to run and get a quick score,” Braswell said. “We are still working on the other options and executing it better.”
The Bulldogs next play Holy Cross this Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.