The men’s basketball team has done its part in its quest for an Ivy League championship. Now all that the Bulldogs can do is wait and see if fate is on their side.
Yale (19-9, 11-3 Ivy) posted two victories at the John J. Lee Amphitheater in its final two regular season games, slipping past Harvard, 77-72, Friday before drilling Dartmouth, 88-59, the next night. With two wins by both Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania this weekend, the Bulldogs now must rely on the Quakers to beat the Tigers Tuesday in Philadelphia to force a three-way tie for the conference championship.
“There is more season for the Bulldogs,” Yale head coach James Jones said after the Dartmouth victory. “Whether we play in the NCAAs, the NIT or a playoff scenario, it’s not over for us yet.”
Should Penn win Tuesday, the Quakers would, by virtue of a 3-1 record against Yale and Princeton, receive the bye in a two-game playoff to determine who receives the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Yale and Princeton would square off, most likely on Thursday night, for the right to face Penn, a game that would probably be Saturday night. Both games will be held at neutral sites.
If Princeton wins Tuesday, the Tigers will be the outright league champions. But with 19 wins, including road victories at Penn State and Clemson, plus 11 wins in a much-improved Ivy League, Jones and the team think that resume warrants a bid to the National Invitational Tournament, which expanded to 40 teams this year.
The postseason picture will get clearer later this week, but what was crystal-clear coming into the weekend is that the Bulldogs needed two wins in order to keep all of these hopes alive. On their home floor — where Yale went 10-1 this year — the Elis delivered.
Friday night against Harvard, the clutch free-throw shooting of captain Ime Archibong ’03 secured a 77-72 Yale victory, the Elis’ fourth straight over their archrival.
In the final minutes with Yale clinging to a 67-66 lead, Jones perceived a weakness in the Harvard defense that isolation plays for the athletic Archibong could expose. The move worked, as Archibong scored eight of his 13 points in the final three and half minutes to clinch the victory for Yale.
“You can’t not be aggressive,” said Archibong, who, despite playing with four fouls, repeatedly lowered his shoulders and drove into the heart of the Crimson defense. Archibong drew three fouls in the final minutes, going a perfect six for six from the free-throw line.
In all, Yale scored 19 of its 33 second half points from the charity stripe. The foul shots were the only ones falling for Yale, as the Elis shot 26.9 percent from the field in that frame, including 0 for 12 from 3-point range.
“That was a Harvard-Yale basketball game played at the intensity of a Harvard-Yale football game,” Crimson head coach Frank Sullivan said. “We improved our defense in the second half — but they responded with finding ways to score without the 3-point shot.”
It looked like the long ball was going to be there for Yale at the outset of the game, as the Bulldogs made all four of their 3-point attempts in the first four minutes of the game, including three from Alex Gamboa ’05. But the Bulldogs went one for 17 from beyond the arc the rest of the way.
Twice this Ivy season, 3-point struggles have led to Yale losses, at home versus Brown and at Princeton, but this time around the Bulldogs were able to claw out a victory.
“We found a way to win,” said Gamboa, who paced the Elis with 17 points. “Harvard is a really tough team. They’re physical, they’re scrappy, they don’t have any quit in them. They weren’t going to lay over, and neither were we.”
Battling back from a 10-point halftime deficit, the Cantabs took their only lead of the game, 63-61, on a Jason Norman put-back with just over six minutes left. Yale answered with a Gamboa bucket to tie the game. Archibong then stole the ball on Harvard’s next possession and got to the foul line to reclaim the lead for good for Yale.
“Ime really stepped up tonight as a captain,” Jones said.
The next night against Dartmouth when Yale needed someone to step up, another Eli veteran, junior point guard Chris Leanza, heeded the call.
Less than two minutes into the game, Gamboa was ejected for throwing an elbow to the face of Dartmouth guard Flinder Boyd. Leanza, Yale’s leading scorer last year — who missed the first half of this season while recovering from shoulder surgery — came in and immediately made an impact.
On the first play after the ejection, Leanza stole the ball from the Big Green’s Steve Callahan under the Dartmouth basket and made an uncontested layup for Yale’s first points of the night. It set the tone for the rest of the game, as Yale’s defense, especially its full-court press, stymied the Big Green, and Yale’s offense scored nearly at will.
“I wasn’t worried [about the ejection],” Archibong said. “You take [Gamboa] out of the game and who do you have coming off the bench? An All-Ivy player from last year.”
Leanza’s performance hearkened back to last season when he earned Honorable Mention All-Ivy honors.
Saturday night, he scored 10 points on four for six shooting, had six assists, four steals and only one turnover in 18 minutes.
“I felt I had to come in and not let us have a drop-off,” Leanza said. “This was the most fun I have had all year.”
It was one of the most lopsided games for the Bulldogs this year, as the lead got as high as 44 points, 82-38, before the Big Green narrowed the gap in the final minutes. The entire Bulldog roster, with the exception of Gamboa, was able to play at least seven minutes
T.J. McHugh ’03 led all scorers with 16 points, while Matt Minoff ’04 and Mark Lovett ’05 each chipped in 10. Yale shot 50 percent from the floor, forced 20 Dartmouth turnovers, and held a commanding 41-27 advantage on the boards.
Notes: The Bulldogs honored team manager Sean Crummie ’02 on Senior Night Saturday at the Lee Amphitheater. There are no seniors on Yale’s roster — The Elis 11 conference wins this season are the most since the ’66-7 team won 11 Ivy games — Yale attempted 81 free throws this weekend, upping its league-leading total of free throws attempted to 713.