With two road wins over the weekend, the men’s basketball team took two more strides toward an Ivy League championship.
On the strength of torrid 3-point shooting, the Bulldogs (17-7, 9-1 Ivy) overcame Cornell, 80-65, Friday night in Ithaca, N.Y., and shellacked Columbia, 76-56, Saturday in New York. Yale kept its hold on first place in the Ivy League with the pair of road victories, remaining a game and half ahead of second place Princeton. The Bulldogs have now won seven games in a row and are a perfect 5-0 in Ancient Eight games away from home.
“My thoughts going into it was just to stay focused on this weekend,” said Paul Vitelli ’04, whose thoughts are now centered on Yale’s date with Princeton next Friday. “When you focus on the big picture, teams like Cornell and Columbia can get you.”
On Saturday night, though, Columbia (10-14, 3-7) had little chance against the Bulldogs, as Yale made 12 of 27 3-point attempts while coasting to a 20-point victory.
Down 20 points at the half, 37-17, the Lions clawed back to within 9 points, 44-35, with 12:21 left in the game. Yale responded with a 10-0 run, aided by a technical foul call assessed to Columbia head coach Armond Hill. Yale kept the ball after Vitelli made two free throws, and Alex Gamboa ’05 drained a 3-pointer from the left side for a 5-point possession.
Yale’s lead peaked at 23 points with two and half minutes to play when captain Ime Archibong ’03 turned 360 degrees in the air before slamming the ball home to the delight of the Yale fan contingent.
Edwin Draughan ’05 led the Bulldogs in scoring with 20 points on eight of 15 shooting. Gamboa and Vitelli were the other Elis to hit double figures, each chipping in 14 points.
A sign of things to come, Yale’s first four field goals came from 3-point territory.
The Lions’ defensive strategy was aimed at containing the Bulldogs’ frontcourt, and, in a sense, it worked, as Yale’s big men combined for only 8 points. But the focus on the interior consistently gave the Elis open looks on the perimeter, resulting in 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Six different Elis got in on the 3-point barrage, with Vitelli leading the way with four triples and Gamboa right behind him with three.
“T.J. [McHugh ’03] and Josh [Hill ’04] and Justin [Simon ’04] have been really making a strong presence down low and teams are taking note of that,” Draughan said. “[Saturday], our perimeter game had to be on par and I think it really was.”
Yale’s perimeter game also came up big Friday night against Cornell (4-19, 1-9).
Trailing 56-49 to the cellar-dwelling Big Red with 12 minutes to play, the Bulldogs took control of the game with four straight 3-pointers — the first from Scott Gaffield ’04 and the next three from Vitelli — to take a 61-56 lead with 9:40 to play. Yale outscored Cornell 19-9 the rest of the way. For the night, the Bulldogs were 11 of 25 from 3-point range, with three apiece from Vitelli, Gaffield and Mark Lovett ’05. Lovett paced the Elis with 14 points, followed by 13 from both Vitelli and Draughan and 10 from McHugh.
Lovett had 13 of his points in the first half, when his hot hand helped the Elis overcome a 10-point deficit to trail by only two at the half, 42-40.
“Some of the hoopla got to the kids a little bit,” Yale head coach James Jones said, referring to the attention the team has received from the national media in the last week after its home sweep of Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.
But when Lovett came off the bench and began to hit from the outside, “it gets contagious,” Jones said.
The Bulldogs return to action Friday when they travel to Princeton, followed by a Saturday night contest at Penn.
Notes: Former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy was in attendance at the game. He attended Yale practice Jan. 24. Knicks assistant Steve Clifford, a friend of Jones’, arranged the visit — Yale last went 2-0 in the Empire State in 1990-91 — About half the 1,832 fans in Columbia’s Levien Gym were Yale supporters.