Second time’s a charm.
Three weeks after traveling to New York and being on the wrong end of two contests against Cornell (18-8, 8-2 Ivy) and Columbia (11-12, 6-4), the Bulldogs (11-13, 6-4) used second half rallies Friday and Saturday night to defeat the two teams atop the Ivy League standings. The weekend sweep puts the Elis in a three-way tie for second place in the league, two games behind first-place Cornell.
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BULLDOGS PULL OFF UPSET
Entering Friday night’s game, Cornell was the heavy favorite — and with good reason. Less than a month before Yale scored just 13 points in the first half in a 64-36 drubbing in Ithaca.
But this time around, the Bulldogs brought their offense and hung with the Big Red before turning it on in the second half, eventually winning 72-60. The victory was Yale’s first over Cornell in three seasons.
Up 34-32 at the half, Cornell expanded its lead to 41-34 two minutes into the second half when the Elis took the game over. An 11-0 run over the next four minutes gave Yale a 45-41 lead, and the Big Red didn’t go back on the top the rest of the way.
The visitors tied the game at 49 but Yale distanced itself again behind an 11-5 run and eventually blew the game open. The Bulldogs were up by as much as 14 points, 72-58.
“You can’t feel much better,” head coach James Jones said. “I thought we executed well and kept fighting. Everybody contributed, and it’s good when that happens.”
Friday night’s performance was a complete turnaround compared to the Jan. 31 showdown at Cornell. In that first meeting, Yale shot just 23 percent (12 for 52) from the field; in comparison, the Bulldogs shot at a 50 percent clip (25 for 50) in Friday’s upset.
“The biggest thing was our offensive execution,” forward Travis Pinick ’09 said. “We didn’t do a good job of running our offense in the first game.”
The Elis were fueled by four players who scored in double figures. Guard Alex Zampier ’10 led the way for the Bulldogs with 15 points. Pinick contributed 14 and captain and forward Ross Morin ’09 chipped in with his season average of 12 points. Pinick’s stat sheet was stuffed with six rebounds, four assists and two steals to go with his 14 points.
But the surprise scorer was point guard Chris Andrews ’09. The senior knocked down three three-pointers and finished with 10 points.
Ryan Wittman, the Ivy League’s third leading scorer entering the weekend, paced the Big Red with 21 points and 7-foot center Jeff Foote dropped in 14. Louis Dale, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, was shut down, however. The point guard shot just three of 12 and finished with only seven points and five turnovers.
FINISHING THE WEEKEND OFF
Saturday night’s script went a lot like Friday’s.
After a competitive first half, the Bulldogs found themselves down two at the half yet again. Columbia expanded that lead to nine, 41-32, with 14:03 remaining. That’s when Yale went on a 10-0 run to take a 42-41 lead with 8:35 on the clock after a Morin bucket.
The Lions took a brief 43-42 lead before Zampier knocked down two free throws to give Yale a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the night. The Bulldogs put the clamps down defensively on the way to a 57-49 victory.
Morin and Zampier each dropped 16 points to lead the Elis. Pinick added 10 of his own, while center Paul Nelson ’10 netted eight off the bench.
Morin was able to be effective despite three first-half fouls.
“I knew I had three fouls but it didn’t change the way I played all that much,” Morin said.
Guard Patrick Foley scored 17 points off the bench to lead the Lions and forward Jason Miller added 10. But the entire Lion team had trouble shooting in the second half. Columbia shot just 34.6 percent (9 for 26) from the field after the break as Yale made things difficult for the visitors.
Yale, who did not make any of its five three-point attempts, went 21 of 29 from the line.
The win, along with the upset Friday, is hugely important to Yale’s quest to stay in the Ivy League championship race. A loss would have put the Bulldogs three games behind Cornell with four to go and Columbia in second place, just one game behind the Big Red.
And Jones knew how important the game was — even if it meant beating his brother Joe, Columbia’s head coach.
“You hate to do it to your brother,” Jones said. “This was an important game for them. They were a game out of first place, but it’s my job.”
STILL IN THE RACE
Now at 6-4 in the conference, the Bulldogs sit in a second-place tie with Columbia and Dartmouth (8-16, 6-4) — and two games behind Cornell — with four games remaining.
The team knows its an uphill battle to catch the Big Red but believes there’s always the chance.
“We know we need some help,” Pinick said. “But we’re just going to focus on what’s in front of us.”
What stands in front of the Elis next weekend is a road trip south to battle traditional Ivy League powers Penn (8-15, 4-5) and Princeton (10-12, 5-4).
The team first heads to the historic Palestra on Friday night to battle Penn in Philadelphia at 7 p.m. The weekend will conclude with a visit to Princeton for a 6 p.m. tipoff.