For the first time since the 1989-90 season, the men’s basketball team posted consecutive double-digit wins away from home in capturing two of its three games over Thanksgiving break.
Yale (2-3) won at Penn State, 87-74, Nov. 18, and then beat Stony Brook 82-62 in the first round of the of the Red Auerbach Colonial Classic before falling to George Washington University, 116-102, in overtime in the tournament’s championship game. The win over the Nittany Lions (1-2) ended Penn State’s 54-game home non-conference winning streak and was the young Elis’ most impressive performance in the James Jones era.
“This is the biggest win for us so far,” said Jones, entering his third season at the helm. “Playing a Big Ten team in their gym — that’s pretty big.”
After dropping their first two games of the year because of slow starts, the Bulldogs came out firing at State College, Pa. Ten and a half minutes into the contest, Yale opened an 11-point lead on Paul Vitelli’s ’04 3-point basket. The Elis extended the lead to 15, 48-33, when captain Ime Archibong ’03 knocked down consecutive threes to close out the half.
The Elis shot the lights out in the opening frame, connecting on 19 of 32 field goal attempts (59 percent), including 10 of 15 from downtown. Yale also dominated the glass, hauling in 18 rebounds to Penn State’s 10.
“I thought we did a horrible job keeping the ball in front of us the first half,” Penn State head coach Jerry Dunn said. “It is a matter of concentration and hard work. We need to do a better job guarding the basketball.”
In the second half, the Nittany Lions increased their defensive intensity, but Yale responded well to the pressure. The Elis maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second half. Edwin Draughan ’05, Yale’s top scorer with 22 points, hit 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
Alex Gamboa ’05, in his first-ever collegiate start, handled the point guard responsibilities for most of the afternoon. Gamboa scored 14 points while dishing out six assists to only one turnover. Archibong had 13 points and Vitelli added 11 while going three for three from beyond the arc.
Forward Tyler Smith, the only returning starter from a Penn State team that made it to the Sweet 16 last year, paced the Nittany Lions with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
“They came in here a very hungry basketball team,” Dunn said of the Elis. “They didn’t care who we were, they just played.”
The Bulldogs had four days to savor their win before returning to action Friday against Stony Brook (0-4) in the first round of the Red Auerbach Colonial Classic in Washington, D.C.
Again the Bulldogs came out strong, opening the game with a 13-2 run to take control. Yale would never relinquish its lead en route to a 20-point victory, 82-62.
Yale used the same formula to beat Stony Brook as they did to topple Penn State: pushing the ball up the court, crashing the boards, and hitting shots from the perimeter. The Bulldogs had a 46 to 39 rebounding advantage against the Seawolves and connected on nine of 20 3-point attempts. Vitelli led the way for Yale with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Scott Gaffield ’04 poured in 14 points, shooting four for eight from downtown.
The next night, the Elis challenged GW, the tournament’s host and champion all seven years of its existence, in the title game.
Playing at the Smith Center, the Colonials’ home floor, GW seemed to have sealed up victory leading by 11 points with only 51 seconds left in regulation. But a number of key steals and clutch baskets narrowed the gap, and with the clock winding down, a leaning Gamboa launched a 3-pointer that fell at the buzzer to tie the game at 89-89 and send it into overtime.
In the extra period, the Colonials made 20 straight free throws to pull out the 116-102 win.
“If you put a team on the foul line 50 times in one game, it is going to be hard to win,” Archibong said.
GW made 38 of those 50 free throw attempts.
Yale led the game 45-37 at the half, closing out the first frame with a 15-5 run fueled by 8 points from Draughan. The Bulldogs upped their advantage to as many as 14 points in the second half, before the Colonials stormed back with a 17-5 run, powered by four 3-pointers from Greg Collucci. Collucci’s fifth 3-pointer of the second half gave GW the lead 71-68 with 4:20 remaining.
“Instead of playing to win, we played to keep the lead,” Archibong said. “We got away from what was getting it done in the first half, which was running the ball.”
Colonial guard Chris Monroe led all scorers with 34 points and Collucci added 26. Draughan led Yale with 19 points, followed by Gamboa with 18 and T.J. McHugh ’03 with 17.
The Elis make their John J. Lee Amphitheater debut Wednesday night at 6 p.m. against Sacred Heart.
Notes: Yale’s win over Penn State was the first time the Nittany Lions lost a non-conference home game in the Bryce Jordan Center, which opened in January 1996 — The Elis’ second place finish at the Red Auerbach Colonial Classic was their best finish in a tournament since a second place finish at the Lobo Invitational in New Mexico in 1997. Yale had lost nine straight tournament games — Vitelli’s double-double against Stony Brook was his third in the team’s five games.