Last season, Yale split its season series with Brown, winning in Providence, R.I., 80-77 after losing at home 87-82 the week before. After a 78-66 loss to Brown at the John J. Lee Amphitheater last Saturday in its Ivy opener, Yale hopes that history will repeat itself.
“We didn’t give the effort that we needed to beat a team like Brown, and obviously that’s very disappointing and frustrating,” captain Chris Leanza ’03 said. “But now we’re just looking forward to getting back at them this weekend and hopefully taking one away from them in their place.”
Last Saturday’s game was originally scheduled to take place on Friday but was postponed because of a fatal traffic accident early Friday morning that claimed the lives of four Yale students. Despite giving up five turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game, players say the accident did not cause their sluggish start.
“The accident was not a distraction at all,” forward Ime Archibong ’03 said. “All the players on the team used it positively. We all wanted to raise the spirits of a campus that needed some joy. We wanted to play in [the victims’] honor.”
After trailing by as many as 17 points, Yale mounted an 11-5 run in the second half that eventually got the Bulldogs within one. But the comeback fizzled when Brown guard Earl Hunt took control, scoring seven points and assisting on two more within a span of a minute and a half to pull away.
“We played well in the second half,” head coach James Jones said. “They ended up only scoring 11 points in the last 11 minutes, and there were a couple of plays that ended in calls that could have gone either way.”
The Elis cannot allow Hunt to repeat his dominance tonight if they want to split the series. Last Saturday, Hunt was nearly unstoppable, scoring a game-high 32 points and making 13 of his 16 free throw attempts. And last year, Hunt scored 33 points in Brown’s home loss to the Bulldogs.
Understanding Hunt’s potency, Yale has worked hard this week to devise a containment scheme. Yale will rotate players to defend Hunt, hoping to confuse him with different looks.
“We’re also going to play Earl [Hunt] by committee,” center T.J. McHugh ’03 said. “We’re going to throw a bunch of guys and a bunch of fresh legs at him and see how he reacts. But more importantly, we’ve just got to play solid team defense against him and we’ll be alright.”
Another strategy the Elis have been working on is fronting Hunt and preventing him from receiving the entry pass at the post.
“It seemed that every time he got the ball down low, he either scored or went to the free throw line,” McHugh said. “We’re going to try to make him work and make everything he gets difficult.”
Hunt played all but one minute of Saturday night’s game, and Yale hopes a more rigorous defensive effort will force Hunt to share the ball.
Beside Hunt, Brown’s switching man-to-man defense also stymied the Elis last Saturday. Brown’s defense bogged the Yale offense, making the Elis static and relegating them to the perimeter. This same style of defense has troubled Yale before; Tennessee Tech, which beat Yale 80-61 in the second round of the NIT last season, played almost exclusively a switch man-to-man defense.
“Brown threw a switch man-to-man defense on us, and we kind of got bogged down,” McHugh said. “We were standing around, and the cuts and screens weren’t crisp enough. When we made the run in the second half, we were making the sharp cuts and the good screens. We’ve done some work this week to get us more prepared against that defense by working on setting screens and using screens.”
Yale will have an extra weapon this Friday with the return of guard Alex Gamboa ’05. Gamboa, who had his appendix removed Jan. 11, missed last Saturday’s game. Gamboa was Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season.
“Alex [Gamboa] is great at getting other people easy looks and open shots,” Leanza said. “I don’t think we had any easy looks last Saturday. He’s a great player and a leader out there on the floor. You’re always going to miss a player like that.”
Despite the disappointing loss last Saturday, Yale seeks redemption tonight.
“We’ve got to come out and show the rest of the league that we’re here to stay,” Leanza said. “We’re not done, and though it’s a big hole we dug for ourselves, we’re not out of it — yet.”