Neither Winter Storm Andrea nor Sacred Heart University (0-4) could stop the men’s basketball team Thursday night, as the Elis (2-2) blanketed the Pioneers, 88-69.
The two teams jockeyed for position all night long before a 13-2 Yale run midway through the second half gave the Bulldogs the lead for good.
“They were worn out,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “They were having trouble keeping up on transition defense, and we capitalized on it.”
The game, played in Fairfield at the William Pitt Center, was just the second meeting between the two programs.
Sacred Heart, yet to win its first game, entered Thursday night’s game determined to make good on their underdog status. The Pioneers jumped out to a 16-7 lead in the first 4:30.
“They were home, and they were hungering for a win,” Jones said. “We came out sluggish in the first half, and they capitalized on it.”
But the Elis bounced back, claiming their first lead of the night, 26-24 with 8:10 left in the first half. Captain Chris Leanza ’03 came off the bench to lead Yale’s surge, finishing the night with 10 points.
“Chris [Leanza] did a great job, especially in the first half,” forward Mark Lovett ’05 said. “He came in at the 15-minute marker and gave our team a lot of energy. He really picked up the intensity; it sparked our team.”
But Yale’s surge did not last. A 7-1 run just before the break gave Sacred Heart the halftime lead, 38-36.
“I wasn’t surprised we played well in the first half,” Pioneer head coach Dave Bike said. “I knew we were capable of it, but in the final minute we had two opportunities to score, and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
In the Yale locker room, Jones emphasized intensity and getting tough on defense and rebounding.
“We were upset with ourselves,” Leanza said. “We definitely weren’t satisfied with the way we were playing.”
The two teams traded points early in the second half. With 12:16 to play, Sacred Heart tied the game 54-54 after guard Maurice Bailey turned a steal by teammate Omar Wellington into a three-point basket. Bailey led the Pioneers with 17 points.
Then, halfway through the second half, Yale began its 13-2 tear.
“It just started coming together,” Leanza said. “We really weren’t in sync for the majority of the night. We finally got everybody involved.”
Yale stepped up in the second half, improving their field goal percentage from 46.7 to 59.2. On defense, the Elis put the first half behind them, reducing Sacred Heart to only 31.7 percent from the field after allowing 50 percent of Sacred Heart’s shots to fall in the first half.
Forward T.J. McHugh ’03 led the Bulldogs with 16 points, and Ivy League Player of the Week Edwin Draughan ’05 chipped in 10. For the second game in a row, Yale got a boost from Lovett, who came off the bench with 14 points. In Yale’s win over Penn State Sunday, Lovett scored 15.
“Mark plays tough,” Jones said. “Mark is someone who knows what he can do and he doesn’t try to do what he can’t.”
The Bulldogs’ 19 assists contributed greatly to Yale’s success against Sacred Heart. The Bulldogs, who had 18 assists in their last game against Penn State, have improved their assists total in each of their four games this season.
“Sharing the ball is something that is going to lead to us to having success, and that’s what the coach has been preaching,” Leanza said. “When you’re penetrating, you’ve got to look for your teammates.”
Yale’s performance last night was a significant improvement over its meeting with Sacred Heart last season, where the Bulldogs only shot 34.8 percent from the field. The Elis beat Sacred Heart 77-64 last winter in the Bulldogs’ home opener.
The Elis, who finished the night shooting 52.6 percent, need to build their late-game run if they are to triumph against Manhattan College on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
“We’re definitely excited to play there,” Leanza said. “They call it the Mecca as far as basketball is concerned. So much great basketball history has occurred there, and we’re excited to add on to it there.”