If it were not for finals, the men’s basketball team could finally relax.
Yale (7-4) capped off its busiest stretch of the season with two wins at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. Yale won 77-66 against the University of Rhode Island (3-5) Tuesday night and 73-61 against Albany (1-7) Saturday. After going 4-1 in a five-game, 11-day stretch, the Elis now have two weeks off before their next game. Yale has won seven of its last nine games.
“This week or so off will be nice,” said center T.J. McHugh ’03 — who sat with two bags of ice applied to his body after a 12-point, eight-rebound performance against the Rams. “It’s nice to leave for break with a win.”
McHugh was one of five Elis in double figures as Yale used a balanced offense and solid defense to put Rhode Island away in the second half of last night’s contest.
With the score tied at 31 after one half of play, Yale opened the second frame with a 10-0 run that included a pair of Eli 3-pointers and a two-handed dunk by captain Ime Archibong ’03.
On the defensive end, Yale made an effort to contain freshman guard Dustin Hellenga, who torched Yale from 3-point territory in the first half, going 4-4 from downtown. With solid defense from Archibong, Hellenga missed two 3-point attempts as Yale built its 10-point lead.
The Rams closed to within 50-44 midway through the half, but Yale responded with 4 points from McHugh and three from Alex Gamboa ’05 to reclaim a double-digit edge.
Hellenga found his touch again in the final two minutes, displaying some impressive acrobatics as he made three nearly impossible shots from downtown. But Hellenga’s display did not phase Yale, as the Elis made 12 of 16 free throws to ice the game down the stretch.
Gamboa led Yale scorers with 15 points, though he struggled somewhat in the backcourt with seven turnovers. Edwin Draughan ’05 picked up the slack, though, with perhaps the most impressive all-around game of his young career. The 6-foot-5-inch guard had 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and only one turnover.
Paul Vitelli ’04 recorded his sixth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Archibong, limited to only 20 minutes because of foul trouble, had his fifth straight game in double figures, scoring 11 points.
Hellenga led all scorers with 30 points, hitting seven 3-pointers.
While the Bulldogs were able to hold off Rhode Island in the second half, they were unable to do so in the first. Yale twice built double digit leads against the Rams, but each time Rhode Island, powered by Hellenga, clawed back.
“We started playing to the crowd a little,” Yale head coach James Jones said of his team’s first half performance. “We played a little too fancy.”
On Saturday against Albany, the Bulldogs played a lethargic first half and trailed by 9 points at the break.
Yale needed a spark, and it came in the form of Archibong. Yale tied the game at 38 by scoring the first 9 points of the second half, with 4 points and a key steal coming from the 6-3 forward.
Albany responded immediately with a 9-2 spurt to go up 47-40, but a 3-pointer by Matt Minoff ’04 and two free throws from Gamboa pulled the Elis within two. After a steal on the defensive end, Josh Hill ’04 fed the ball to Archibong on a pretty backdoor cut, and Archibong jammed the ball home to knot the score at 47. After an Albany layup and a Yale free throw, Archibong stole the ball and took it down the floor for a layup, giving Yale a 50-49 lead with just under 12 minutes to play. The Elis led the rest of the way.
“I am not one to single out guys in the locker room, but I made a point to tell the team how well [Archibong] played,” Jones said. “He electrified us.”
Archibong had 19 points in the half, and 22 for the game, as he made all eight of his field goal attempts in the second half, including two from beyond the arc. When Archibong stepped on the court in the second half, he knew what he had to do.
“The starting five, we take it upon ourselves to set the right tempo for the team,” Archibong said. “In the first half, as a team, we were kind of dead.”
After Yale jumped out to a quick 8-4 lead, Albany took advantage of lackluster Yale defense to go on a 32-12 run and take a 16-point lead, its largest of the afternoon, with under five minutes to play in the half. The Great Danes were powered by torrid 3-point shooting, as E.J. Gallup, Earv Opong and Antoine Johnson each hit a pair of threes during the Albany burst.
Yale narrowed the deficit to nine by halftime with a 9-2 run, fueled by 6 points from Gamboa.
Gamboa finished the night with 10 points, as did his backcourt mate Draughan. Vitelli had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Elis.
Yale returns to action against Gardner Webb Dec. 28 in the first round of the Poinsettia Holiday Classic at Furman University in South Carolina. The Elis will take on either Furman or Macalester the next night. The Bulldogs will then make a stop at Clemson Jan. 2. They return to the Lee Amphitheater Jan. 11 for their Ivy League opener against Columbia.
Notes: All seven of Yale’s wins this season have been by double figures — Scott Gaffield ’04 did not dress against Albany because of a sprained ankle. He played only eight minutes against Rhode Island, 10 below his average — Against Albany, the Bulldogs sported American flags on the upper left corner of the jerseys for the first time this season.