It may be a new season, but the same old problems have come back to haunt the men’s basketball team.
The Elis opened their 2001-02 campaign in the Guardians Classic in Columbia, Mo., and dropped both of their games — losing 68-62 to Air Force Tuesday night and 99-87 to Tennessee-Martin Wednesday. Last year, Yale often found itself trying to overcome 15- or 20-point deficits, sometimes succeeding, other times failing. Reminiscent of last season, the Bulldogs dug themselves early holes in the first half both nights that they failed claw their way out of, despite frenzied second half efforts.
“We did not come out as aggressively as I would have liked,” head coach James Jones said.
The absence of point guard Chris Leanza ’03, recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, combined with early foul trouble for T.J. McHugh ’03 and captain Ime Archibong ’03 in both games left the team without a proven leader on the court.
“That gives us three sophomores and two freshmen on the floor, or vice versa,” Jones said. “Now we are real young and guys are looking for someone to lead and give direction, and there is no one there to lead them. We need to grow up quickly.”
In the Tennessee-Martin game, the Elis trailed by only 3 points, 20-17, before the Skyhawks ended the first half on a 29-9 run. At halftime Yale faced a 49-26 deficit.
The Bulldogs improved on their 30 percent first half shooting by connecting on 22 of 37 field goals in the second frame, but it was too little to overcome the halftime deficit. The 61 points the Elis scored in that half were only 2 shy of the team record for points in a half, 63 versus Harvard, Feb. 28, 1970. Yale’s 29 turnovers in the game, the most in at least 28 games, led to 34 Skyhawk points.
“We have two fresh point guards that we use primarily, and they are going to make some mistakes,” Jones said. “We are capable of cleaning things up — you won’t see another 29 turnover game from this team.”
The previous night had a similar script. Yale was held scoreless in the first six minutes in the gam,e and Air Force closed the half with a 26-13 run, giving the Falcons a 33-19 lead heading into the locker room.
The Falcons extended their lead to 20 points, 47-27, with 11 minutes left to play in the game. Yale then went on a nine-minute, 26-12 run to pull within 6 points, 59-53, but a clutch Air Force layup followed by a 3-pointer kept the game out of reach.
Paul Vitelli ’04, starting at power forward, posted double-doubles both nights, going for 19 points and 12 rebounds against Tennessee-Martin and 16 points and 11 rebounds against Air Force.
Highly touted recruit Edwin Draughan ’05 was lackluster during his first three halves of college basketball, scoring only 11 points. In the second half against UTM, Draughan came alive, scoring 18 of his 21 points and leading Yale’s failed comeback attempt.
“The team didn’t give up. We kept fighting to the end of the game, and we put ourselves a position to win both games,” Jones said. “We have got to get the point where we put it together for 40 minutes.”
Notes: Jones said the team’s first victory of the season came Monday morning when they left to get to the airport for their flight to Missouri. The bus that was supposed to pick the team up at 6 a.m. failed to show up on time, but the Elis succeeded in putting together a convoy of cars to get to the airport — Their travel woes continued when they returned home from Missouri — they were missing eight bags.