The men’s basketball team sent a message to the rest of the Ivy League Saturday night against Harvard. With the game tied midway through the second half, Ime Archibong ’03 forced yet another Cantab turnover, drove the ball down the court and slammed through a one-handed dunk to give Yale the lead for the first time since the first half.
In a weekend full of strong team play, the Bulldogs made it clear that they are not ready to relinquish their role in the Ivy League title race, finishing with their second straight weekend sweep after overpowering Dartmouth 75-64 on Friday and Harvard 73-68 on Saturday.
“Team chemistry has definitely improved,” Archibong said. “We’re communicating more on defense and everyone is trusting each other. On offense, we’re sharing the ball more.”
Yale displayed more cohesion in its performance this weekend than had been seen since its Phoenix Classic championship run last December. Against Dartmouth on Friday, all five Eli starters put up double-digit point totals. The following afternoon against Harvard, the Bulldogs matched their season-high assist total with 19.
The Bulldogs’ defense has also come together, forcing 18 turnovers against Dartmouth and 21 against Harvard. In another sign of the surging defense, the Elis dramatically lowered the number of times they sent their opponents to the foul line. Before this weekend, Yale gave its opponents an average of 18.7 free throws per game. This weekend, the Elis gave Dartmouth only 10 looks from the foul line and Harvard only five.
“The difference in the game was the free throws,” Harvard head coach Frank Sullivan said. “They did a good job of keeping us in front of them without fouling. It kept some of our perimeter guys from going all the way to the basket.”
The Bulldogs established a full-court press early against Dartmouth, extracting five turnovers from the Big Green in the first five minutes. Capitalizing on its defensive success, Yale went on a 19-8 run during the same period.
“We looked erratic early and they were hungry,” Dartmouth head coach Dave Faucher said. “That combination is not the script you want to start a game. The press really bothered us early. Once we got used to the pace, we were okay, but it took us a while to adjust and by then we just didn’t have enough firepower to overcome their initial onslaught.”
Yale extended its 38-26 halftime lead to 15 with 12:10 left to play, and head coach James Jones brought on the second line. But Dartmouth seized the opportunity, bringing the game within single digits. Jones was forced to return his first squad to the floor, quickly quashing Dartmouth’s hopes of a comeback victory.
“We had a tough time with that second unit tonight,” Jones said. “Their shots weren’t falling and they were searching for some leadership out there. They have to take better care of the ball.”
The same second unit had a shot at redemption the following night against Harvard and they rose to the occasion. T.J. McHugh ’03, Yale’s most consistent scorer and the anchor of the Eli defense, only played 15 minutes on Saturday following a muscle contusion in his right knee that he suffered in the second half of the Dartmouth game. But center Justin Simon ’04 and Matt Minoff ’04 filled the void, contributing 14 points points and 17 rebounds while holding the Harvard big men to only eight points and 13 rebounds.
“T.J. is a huge part of our offense and a huge part of the defense,” captain Chris Leanza ’03 said. “He’s very tough to replace. But Justin came in and played some huge minutes.”
Other members of the Eli bench also stepped up — guard Scott Gaffield ’04 had eight points and three steals and forward Paul Vitelli ’04 added five points and two rebounds. On the other end of the floor, two of Harvard’s starters, Elliot Prasse-Freeman and Patrick Harvey, played all 40 minutes.
“They played their two best guys for 40 minutes,” Jones said. “The reason our guys were able to make some plays on their guys down the stretch was because [the Yale players] were fresher. It’s important to have some depth. Our guys on the bench are as good as anybody in the league and our bench wears you down.”
Yale needed the boost from its bench on Saturday. The game was close throughout: there were 11 lead changes in the game and never more than eight points separating the two teams.
Harvard forward Jason Norman’s three-pointer with 1:41 left cut the Yale lead to three, but the Bulldogs kept their composure. On Yale’s next possession, Draughan slashed through the middle to extend the advantage to five with 32 seconds left. Minoff swatted away a Harvard three-point attempt to seal the Eli win.
“It was a great game for us and for our fans,” Draughan said. “It showed them what we can do in clutch situations. We kept cool down the stretch and that’s what an experienced team brings you.”
Yale’s third and fourth straight victories have invigorated the Elis just two weeks after a pair of early losses to Brown.
“Losing those two [to Brown] was real tough for our team and we’ve been ready to regenerate some momentum ever since,” guard Alex Gamboa ’05. “We’ll be going into this week with our heads high and ready to battle.”
The Bulldogs face perennial powers the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton on the road next weekend.
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