After opening its Ivy League season with consecutive losses to Brown, the men’s basketball team snapped its seven-game Division I losing streak in dramatic fashion, clobbering Columbia (2-15, 0-4 Ivy) 65-51 on Friday and Cornell (7-10, 2-2) 76-49 on Saturday.
“We were definitely in a little funk [before this weekend],” T.J. McHugh ’03 said. “We weren’t playing together and we were making a lot of little mistakes. This weekend, we cut down on those little mistakes.”
Defense was the key to Yale’s success this weekend. During practices this past week, the Bulldogs (8-9, 2-2) worked on a back-to-basics defense that focused on simplicity and consistency.
In the end, the Elis’ hard work paid off. On Friday night, Yale held Columbia to just 36.2 percent shooting from the floor. The next day, the Bulldogs kept Cornell — who had been averaging 62.0 points per game and 40.3 percent shooting from the floor before Saturday — to just 49 points from 30.6 percent shooting while forcing the Big Red to turn the ball over 20 times.
“Cornell was our best defensive effort all year,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “We were able to shut them down and not let them do what they wanted us to do.”
Yale also successfully guarded the 3-point shot, allowing only six threes from 21 attempts over the weekend.
“You can’t win shooting 2 for 16 from three,” Columbia head coach Armond Hill said. “When you’re playing in the eighth grade you can’t win shooting 2 for 16 [on three-pointers].”
Yale’s defensive success also had positive effects at the opposite end of the floor. The Elis shot 52.4 percent and 45.9 percent from the field against Columbia and Cornell, respectively. During the Columbia game, Yale made seven for 13 from beyond the arc, led by Paul Vitelli ’04, who hit three of six from downtown.
“It’s nice to see [Vitelli] being active and hitting his shots,” Jones said. “Its good to see him stepping up and doing the things that he did last year.”
Forward Ime Archibong ’03 had a breakout game against Cornell. Archibong scored 14 points on five-of-six shooting in just 16 minutes of play. Even more telling of his offensive performance, Archibong pulled down five rebounds, all of which came off the offensive glass.
“Ime played tremendously at Cornell,” McHugh said. “Coach talked about us seniors stepping up and he definitely stepped up.”
Guard Matt Minoff ’04 continued his series of solid performances, contributing 10 rebounds and seven points on Friday and 11 points and seven assists on Saturday.
“Matt’s a solid player,” Archibong said. “He does so many things well. He shoots well. He passes the ball well. He’s also a big defensive presence. Last year, he wasn’t fully tapping into what he could do and he is this year.”
Yale’s efforts both individually and as a team were evident all weekend long. Bodies began flying as soon as the ball left the referee’s hands on Friday night at the Levien Gymnasium in New York City as the Elis scrambled and dove after every loose ball. But despite the defensive effort, Columbia managed to stay close for the majority of the first half.
Trying to disrupt the flow of a patient Columbia offense, Yale began a full-court press approximately five minutes into the game. The Elis continued to press the Lions for the remainder of the game.
“We really haven’t pressed a lot this year and it surprised them early,” Jones said. “We were able to get some steals.”
Yale’s defensive efforts finally began to pay off late in the first half. The Bulldogs closed off the first frame with a 16-6 run that gave them a 34-22 edge at halftime. Columbia returned the favor in the second half, pressing Yale and mounting a 12-3 run that brought them within 10 with 3:19 left in the game. But the Eli defense clamped down, sealing the victory for Yale.
Yale’s victory at Cornell became a rout after the Elis tallied up an 8-0 run and a 19-6 run in the first half. The Bulldogs extended their 48-26 halftime lead to 25 and then 30 with 5:02 remaining in the second half, putting the game well beyond reach.
“We probably played some of the best basketball that we’ve played in three years [against Cornell],” Jones said. “We moved the basketball real well. It was a lot of fun to coach that game.”
Despite its successes this weekend, Yale remains cautious about its upcoming games.
“The two wins this weekend was really big for us,” center McHugh said. “It was definitely good to get back on the winning track, to get a feeling for what it is like to win again. But this is a fourteen game tournament and we definitely need to take them one game at a time.”