After a 77-64 win over Sacred Heart, Yale head coach James Jones wrote two words on the board in the locker room: “learn” and “win.”

“It is much easier to learn from a win than a loss,” Jones said. “[It was] ugly, but it works.”

Ugly was an accurate description of the contest, but the Bulldogs still managed to claw out a 13-point win in their home opener last night. In a game where the teams took a minimalist approach to defense, Sacred Heart (1-3) still managed to hit only 39 percent of its shots, including only three of 21 3-pointers — many of them uncontested. Yale (3-3) shot an even more paltry 34 percent.

“We [had] been shooting really well from the field, but we can’t rely on that,” forward Paul Vitelli ’04 said. “Our defense bordered on awful tonight.”

The offense was no better, but Vitelli, Alex Gamboa ’05 and T.J. McHugh ’03 all scored in double figures to lead the Elis to victory.

With just over 10 minutes left in the game and the score tied at 53, Yale went on a three-minute, 11-0 run to take control. Vitelli hit a layup, a jumper and a 3-pointer over that stretch to give the Elis a 64-53 advantage.

In one of the few spurts of solid defense during the game, Yale’s full-court press fueled the offensive run, causing three Sacred Heart turnovers.

“I don’t think we scored a basket against [Yale’s press],” Sacred Heart head coach Dave Bike said. “We turned it over too many times.”

The Pioneers countered Yale’s run with a 9-2 burst, highlighted by a monster dunk by Andrew Hunter, to pull within 66-62 with 3:20 left.

Characteristic of the game’s sloppy play, the Bulldogs made only five of 10 free throws in the final minutes, but two late-game layups by Edwin Draughan ’05 were enough to seal the victory.

Vitelli finished the night with 17 points and 11 rebounds — his fourth double-double in six games. Gamboa led the team with 19 points, and McHugh added 15 points and 14 boards.

Even though the Bulldogs scored 77 points, they failed to capitalize on a number of good looks at the basket. The struggles of Draughan, who made only three of 12 field goal attempts, were emblematic of those of the team. The team’s leading scorer coming into the game, Draughan was impressive in slashing to the hoop but was unable to finish. He had 9 points, eight rebounds and four of Yale’s 16 turnovers.

Draughan’s first field goal came at the end of the opening half, when he knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner. The buzzer sounded as the shot fell through the net, giving Yale a 38-32 advantage and mercifully ending a sloppy first half.

In that frame and throughout the night the Bulldogs’ low-post defense and rebounding were sporadic. Sacred Heart opened the game with two easy layups from Tim Welch, who finished with 13 points, and the Pioneers hauled in eight offensive boards in the half.

“We did not seem to have any defensive fundamentals tonight,” Vitelli said.

Notes: Vitelli is not showing any ill effects from the knee surgery he had over the off-season. He was sidelined for a month during the summer as he recovered from a procedure that repaired torn cartilage in his right knee. — Point guard Chris Leanza ’03, the team’s top scorer last year, began shooting for the first time last week. Leanza is recovering from shoulder surgery. Jones said he should be back for the start of Ivy League play in January. — Jones said freshman Jerry Gauriloff ’05, a 6-9 center, will most likely miss the rest of the year with a herniated disk, which has sidelined him since before the start of the regular season.