Yale head coach James Jones stomped and hollered all he could from the sidelines. But his impromptu rain dances were not enough for the Elis to emerge from a pair of second-half offensive draughts this weekend.
After losing at the University of Pennsylvania (15-5, 7-0 Ivy) 68-57 Friday and at Princeton (11-9, 5-2) 56-49 Saturday, Yale’s (10-11, 4-4) chance of an Ivy League title all but washed away.
“This was a crucial weekend for our season,” forward Ime Archibong ’03 said. “We wanted to come out and make a real statement to the league. But the offensive rhythm seemed not to be there.”
Friday night’s game at the Palestra in Philadelphia started auspiciously for Yale. Immediately after the tipoff, guard Edwin Draughan ’05 hit back-to-back 3-point shots to put the Elis up 6-0. Yale’s defense played masterfully, holding Pennsylvania forwards Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong– both All-Ivy first team selections last season– to just five and three points, respectively. The Elis also forced nine Pennsylvania turnovers, four off of Quaker offensive fouls.
“I was concerned,” Pennsylvania head coach Fran Dunphy said. “I was yelling at Begs [Quaker guard Tim Begley] early because Draughan steps up and makes two threes right away, and he can’t do that. Yeah, I was concerned, no question about it.”
Pennsylvania rallied to pull within 34-33 at halftime, mainly on the strength because it shot six-of-nine from 3-point land in the first half. In a performance reminiscent of Harvard’s Elliot Prasse-Freeman from a week before, Begley made three-of-four from beyond the 3-point arc. At halftime, Begley led all with 12 points.
“Our guys on the baseline, on dribble penetration, were caught looking as opposed to flattening out and defending the 3-point shot from the weak side,” Jones said.
The first half was extremely close; there were eight lead changes.
But the second half looked troublesome for the Bulldogs from the beginning. Yale opened the half missing three straight layups. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s big men woke up; Onyekwe and Koko Archibong combined for eight of the first 10 points the Quakers scored in the first half.
“Missing those three layups in the early part of the second half really hurt us,” Jones said. “Ugonna [Onyekwe] scores a basket, Koko [Archibong] knocks down a three, and you’re on the outside looking in. We were climbing uphill from that point.”
After Yale center T.J. McHugh’s ’03 layup with 10:36 left in the game, the heavens closed and the draught began. The next Yale field goal came with 1:30 left and the Quakers up by 11. During the dry spell, the Elis turned the ball over seven times. Yale finished the second half shooting a dismal 7-for-24 from the field.
“Our offense didn’t get outside the perimeter, outside the three-point arc and space out,” Jones said. “We made it easier for their defense because we were inside the arc, and when guys dribble penetrated, there was nobody open to kick out to. It was tough on the guys with the ball.”
Yale’s rebounding woes returned. The Bulldogs lost on the boards 34-26, giving up 10 offensive boards and five second-chance points to the Quakers.
“One of the things we do well is our transition game,” Jones said. “And when we don’t get the ball off the backboard like we did tonight, we can’t push the ball out on transition and get quick shots. When you face a team with guys like Koko [Archibong] and Ugonna [Onyekwe] in the half court defense the whole time, it’s going to be difficult to get quality shots.”
On Saturday night at Princeton, instead of making back-to-back three-pointers, Draughan began the game with two turnovers and a foul.
“Edwin [Draughan] was tentative tonight,” Jones said after the game Saturday. “He wasn’t ready to play tonight. You turn the ball over the first two times you touch the ball: you’re not ready to play.”
But despite losing its most prolific offensive producer, Spencer Gloger, to a sprained ankle the night before, Princeton looked sharp. The Tigers ran their famous backdoor cuts with special notoriety in the early going.
“In the last couple of years, we had done such a good job against their backdoor,” Ime Archibong said. “They only had one or two baskets all season last year off backdoor plays. I don’t know if we should’ve put in some extra time during practice or not, but we definitely had some trouble with it last night.”
Despite only shooting 37.5 percent from the field and coughing up 10 turnovers in the first half, Yale was only trailing 27-22 at halftime. The Elis were still in the game largely because of Princeton’s shooting woes and individual efforts from center Justin Simon ’04 and forward Paul Vitelli ’04.
Yale had its chance in the second half, but the Eli offense could not put anything concrete together. With 17:53 left in the half, a McHugh jumper brought Yale within one at 27-26 before the Tigers went on a 14-2 run to take a 13-point lead.
The Elis had another opportunity with 10:29 left when Matt Minoff’s ’04 jumper brought the Elis within a basket, 43-40. But much like the previous night, the ground swallowed all the water, and Yale went on an eight-minute scoreless draught.