It is not how you start, but how you finish.
The Elis (0–1, 0–0 Ivy) learned that lesson the hard way as they blew a 24-point lead to Sacred Heart (1–0, 0–0 Northeast) on Saturday before falling 85–82 in overtime.
A balanced offensive effort helped the Elis take a 44–28 lead over the Pioneers into halftime. Eight Elis scored during the first half and the Bulldogs registered assists on 11 of their 14 baskets before the break.
“Everyone was looking for the open man,” guard Austin Morgan ’13 said. “That led to an efficient offense.”
The lead reached its apex with 14:51 remaining in the second half when guard Michael Grace’s ’13 layup gave Yale a 61–37 advantage. But the Pioneers responded with an 11–0 run over the next 3:44 until Morgan ended the run with a three-pointer.
Morgan led the Elis with an impressive display from beyond the arc. He finished 6–11 from three on his way to a career-high 28 points. In his first collegiate game, forward Justin Sears ’16 added 19 points and seven rebounds for the Bulldogs.
Sacred Heart ended the game on a 28–12 run, forcing overtime on senior guard Shane Gibson’s layup with eight seconds on the clock. The Bulldogs had left the door open for Gibson’s heroics when Morgan missed a free throw with 16 seconds left.
“They were smart and tried to push the tempo,” guard Jesse Pritchard ’14 said. “We got caught up and did not use the clock and make them work on defense.”
Morgan had made his first eight free throws of the game before that miss. He finished fifth in the nation last year with a .900 free throw percentage.
The Elis scored the first five points of the extra period, but the Pioneers scored the final eight and guard Jesse Pritchard’s wild three at the buzzer banged off the rim to end the Connecticut Six tournament with a disappointing loss for Yale.
“We took our foot off the gas,” Sears said. “We got content with our lead and let them back into the game.”
The Pioneers comeback was led by Gibson. He scored a game-high 29 points, with 22 of those coming after the break. Last year Gibson finished fourth in the nation with 22 points per game and he was a preseason all-Northeast Conference first-team pick.
The Elis were also hurt on the boards, and Sacred Heart ended the game with a 41–29 rebounding advantage. Morgan said that the Pioneers fought harder for rebounds when they were losing.
“Down 24, they got aggressive,” Morgan said. “They got to all of the rebounds they needed to.”
He added that the game was a learning experience for the young Yale team and that they need to play well for the full 40 minutes, not just the first 30.
Yale returns to the court tomorrow at St. Joseph’s (0–0, 0–0 A10) in Philadelphia, Pa. as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.