Conventional wisdom says athletes should not dwell on past outcomes, especially losses. They should put them out of sight, out of mind.
But Yale’s Dec. 29 loss to Macalester College, a Division III school, is something the players on the men’s basketball team are going to keep in their minds for the rest of the season.
“I know you’re supposed to forget losses,” forward Josh Hill ’04 said. “[That loss] is something good to stay in our heads. We can’t take any game for granted.”
Coming off a 16-day layoff, the Bulldogs — along with Gardner-Webb University, Furman University and Macalester — headed to the Poinsettia Holiday Classic in Greenville, S.C.
Coming into the two-round tournament well-rested and riding a three-game winning streak, Yale figured to have a good shot at its first tournament title since 1996.
In the opening round, however, Yale lost to another Bulldog team, Gardner-Webb, 79-69. Gardner-Webb (10-5) is only in its second year of Division I basketball, although it does sport a 6-5 record against Division I competition.
The Elis played flat and were down by as many as 18 points midway through the second half. Gardner-Webb shot over 52 percent from the field while holding Yale to a paltry 31.5 percent shooting.
“We did not come ready and focused to play,” captain Ime Archibong ’03 said. “I don’t know if it was the layoff … the team just wasn’t there mentally.”
Having to face Macalester in the consolation game the next night was disheartening enough for Yale, but what happened during the game was even worse.
The Bulldogs trailed by 15 points to the St. Paul, Minn., school at one point in the first half. They seemed to wake up from their funk in the second half, turning a five-point halftime deficit into an eight-point lead midway through the second half, but the Scots capitalized on Eli turnovers and fouls to pull off the upset, 90-82.
“It was kind of weird when we came back together — we weren’t clicking like we had been,” point guard Alex Gamboa ’05 said. “Everyone was really frustrated. We were planning on going down there and winning that tournament.”
The Elis’ plans went terribly awry, but since then the team has rebounded for three straight wins and a quick 2-0 start in Ivy League play — and the Bulldogs the loss to Macalester to thank.
“Sometimes, you need a bad loss,” head coach James Jones said.
In response to the Macalester loss, Jones instituted twice-a-day practices in which he had the team get back to the basics, like playing tough team defense. In their three-game winning streak, the Bulldogs’ defense has shown marked improvement.
“It was a totally different bite to practice,” Archibong said. “They were hard practices because guys got after it.”
Archibong himself called a team meeting, without coaches, and asked every player to say what he felt was wrong with the team’s performance in the two losses.
“There needed to be a little bit more of a fire before we went on the floor,” said Gamboa, whose sentiments were similar to those of the rest of the team. “We were coming out flat, and I thought that was a big part of our downfall.”
On top of listening to each other, the team has done a great job listening to the coaching staff. For newcomers to Division I basketball, it can be tough to follow the coach’s lead, especially at trying times, Archibong said. But, he added, “the young guys are doing a great job to be mature enough to trust Coach Jones.”
The focus on defense in the two-a-days paid off against Clemson, as the Bulldogs forced the Tigers into 16 turnovers and held them to 37 percent shooting in pulling off a 68-65 upset in Clemson, S.C. It was Yale’s first victory over an ACC opponent since 1973.
“We went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs,” Gamboa said.