The men’s basketball team opened its season over break, losing to Oklahoma State 68-59 and Wake Forest 73-61 before an 84-68 victory over Penn State.
On Sunday, Yale topped Penn State for the second straight year, handing the Nittany Lions their first 0-3 start since 1987. Last year, Yale upset Penn State, 87-74.
The Bulldogs trailed 29-22 with just under three minutes to play in the first half when they went on a 12-0 run spanning both halves that put Yale up 34-29. The Elis caught fire after halftime, knocking down 17 of 25 shots, including 10 of 13 beyond the three-point arc. On defense, head coach James Jones’ decision to go the zone in the second half paid off, as Yale held the Nittany Lions to only 13 of 29 from the floor.
“We didn’t respond in a fashion that one should in a game at this level,” Penn State head coach Jerry Dunn said. “I’m talking about making shots when you have to. When they made their run in the second half and got the lead, we missed some shots.”
The Yale offense improved upon its previous two performances. The Elis shot 57.4 percent from the field, including an amazing 15-22 from 3-point range. The Bulldogs also outrebounded their opponent 32-21.
“In our first two games, we didn’t do a very good job of penetrating and passing,” Jones said. “We harped on that heading into this game, and tonight we came out and looked for each other. We had 18 assists on 27 field goals, which is very good.”
Yale got a much needed boost off the bench from Pennsylvania native Mark Lovett ’05, who finished with 15 points including 4-5 from three-point land. Edwin Draughan ’05 led the Elis with 18 points, including 4-4 from behind the arc.
“Mark [Lovett] played in front of his family and his relatives,” Yale forward Paul Vitelli ’04 said. “It didn’t seem like he missed. He was 4-5 for threes. We tried to get him the ball as much as possible.”
On Nov. 22, the Elis played their season opener at Oklahoma State before a crowd of 12,313.
“It is definitely loud in there and a lot of people, too,” Vitelli said. “It was a hostile crowd, but we felt like we feed off of that because we were really excited to play.”
The unfriendly atmosphere did not effect the Elis. Despite shooting just 38.2 percent from the field and being out-rebounded 43-30, the Elis still managed to stay close. There were 16 lead changes and eight ties in the game. Vitelli led the Elis with 15 points and six rebounds.
Yale stayed in the game in the first half and trailed Oklahoma State by only one, 33-32, at halftime. But with 14 minutes left and the Bulldogs down by two, the Cowboys went on a 17-4 run that opened up a 59-44 lead with nine minutes left. Then Oklahoma State went cold, failing to score a single point in the next seven minutes. The Elis pulled to 59-50 but were unable to capitalize further on their opponent’s drought.
“We rushed shots a little bit,” Jones said. “They made us attack their half court defense a little more by getting back and setting up. I thought that we took some ill-advised shots in the second half. They blocked a lot of shots, which will also hurt your shooting.”
Yale came out of the gates running in its second game at Wake Forest on Nov. 27. The Elis went up 7-0 in the first two minutes before Demon Deacons forward Josh Howard ignited a 24-7 run. Wake Forest built up a 41-29 advantage by halftime and extended its lead to 46-29 in the beginning of the second half. Holding Wake Forest to just 34.8 percent shooting in the second half, Yale got within eight points, but could pull no closer.
The Bulldogs shot 41.8 percent but were once again overmatched on the boards, 40-31. Draughan paced Yale with 20 points.
“[Draughan is] a talented kid,” Wake Forest head coach Skip Prosser said. “But it wasn’t any grand scheme, saying we would let this guy get his points and stop everyone else. It just worked out that way. But he’s a talented kid.”
Yale’s two early losses did not faze the Elis.
“We really weren’t that down after those two games,” Draughan said. “We knew that on any given day, we could’ve won those two games.”
Both Oklahoma State and Wake Forest qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season, the elusive season ending event that Yale hopes to finally participate in this season. Despite the convincing win yesterday, the Elis have different expectations after their Ivy Championship season last year.
“Our expectation level is different this year than last season. I remember walking off the court last year, leading by 15 and thinking wow, we’re going to win this game,” Jones said. “This year, we expected to win so there isn’t nearly as much celebrating in the locker room as last time.”