March is the month when college basketball teams can soar to new heights. But this March, the Yale men’s basketball team came crashing down to earth.
Entering the month with contests against Princeton, Pennsylvania and Brown, the Bulldogs (10-17, 7-7 Ivy) could have earned at least a share of the Ivy League title. But the Elis failed to step up to the challenge, falling to all three teams en route to a fourth-place finish in the Ancient Eight.
The Bulldogs dropped a 60-49 decision at home to eventual Ivy champ Princeton (16-10, 11-3) March 2. On Senior Night the next day, Penn (12-17, 9-5) embarrassed the Elis 63-38, officially eliminating the team from contention for the Ivy League title. Playing for pride in the final game of the season, Yale lost 90-80 to Brown (15-12, 9-5) March 7 in Providence, R.I.
“We wanted to win an Ivy League championship, and we put ourselves in position to,” Ime Archibong ’03 said. “But to end the year with a three-game losing streak, it is kind of hard to get that done.”
Yale head coach James Jones said he was disappointed with the way his team finished the season, but he was quick to put a positive spin on the year’s results.
“If someone were to tell me they we were going to be 7-7 and 10-17 after losing our best player [Onaje Woodbine] and going 5-9 and 7-20 [the previous year], I probably would have been pretty happy about that,” Jones said.
The Elis — picked to finish last in the league in a preseason media poll — have reason to tout their accomplishments, such as reaching double digits in wins and finishing .500 in the league for the first time in three years.
But the team let an opportunity at a league crown slip away in a year when Penn and Princeton, the Ivy League elite, fielded their most vulnerable teams of the last decade.
“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what we were doing out there,” said Chris Leanza ’03, an honorable mention All-Ivy selection. “We definitely weren’t playing Bulldog basketball as we know it. That is the worst part about it — we didn’t give it our best shot.”
Against Brown, the Bulldogs turned in a spirited effort as they sought to earn the program’s first winning record in league play since the 1990-91 season. But Brown had no difficulty finding holes in a porous Yale defense as it held on to an early 12-0 lead on its way to a 90-80 victory.
“There wasn’t any defense tonight,” said Jones, whose team let the Bears shoot 52 percent from the field, including just under 64 percent from three-point range.
Shaun Etheridge and Alai Nuualiitia led the Brown attack, going for 21 points and 16 respectively.
Archibong paced the Bulldogs with 21 points, including a perfect three for three from behind the arc. Leanza added 15 points.
Captain Neil Yanke ’01, who saw limited minutes because of foul trouble, ended his Yale career with eight points and five rebounds before fouling out.
The Bulldogs, who shot nine for 22 from three-point territory, set a new school record for three-pointers made in a season. The Elis made 172 treys on the year, two more than the previous mark of 170 set in the 1990-91 season.
On Senior Night March 3, the Elis were officially eliminated from the race for the Ivy League title, suffering a 63-38 bludgeoning at the hands of Penn.
The Quakers were led by Lamar Plummer, who shot five for eight from three-point range en route to a game-high 17 points. Forward Ugonna Onyekwe chipped in with 16 for the Quakers.
No Eli managed to score double figures in the game. Tom Kritzer ’01, in his last game at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, led the Bulldogs with seven points. Yanke had a woeful night, going two for 12 from the field for only five points.
“I’m embarrassed,” a dejected Kritzer said after the game. “This is one of the worst feelings I have ever had, to be honest. We never even had a chance tonight.”
The Elis led 7-5 with 15:45 left in the first half before the wheels came off. The Bulldogs only made one field goal the rest of the half as Penn mounted a 30-6 run and took a 35-13 lead into the locker room.
Penn shot only 37 percent from the field but held a 44-35 edge in rebounding.
The night before, the Bulldogs ran into a Princeton team that was not going to be denied as it marched towards its 23rd Ivy League title, falling 60-49.
Trailing by 10 points at the start of the second half, the Bulldogs mounted a 13-4 run capped by a Kritzer jumper that narrowed the deficit to 35-34. On the offensive end, Tiger Kyle Wente nailed a long range three-pointer with only a second left on the shot clock to stop the Yale run and silence the raucous John J. Lee Amphitheater crowd.
Wente’s three was only one of a handful of clutch three-pointers the Tigers nailed to answer any charges the Elis mounted.
Tiger Nate Walton led all scorers with 17 points. Mike Bechtold chipped in 10 for Princeton.
Yanke — a second team All-Ivy selection — paced the Bulldogs with 16 points and 10 rebounds, the only Eli to hit double figures. Leanza was kept silent by the Tiger defense, scoring only five points.
The season-ending three game losing streak was tough to swallow for the young Eli squad. But the team, which will lose only three players to graduation this year, is hopeful that it will be able to build on the experience in the future.
“No more excuses,” Archibong said. “It is another stepping stone.”
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