After dispatching Cornell (8-15, 3-7 Ivy) handily 70-52 Friday night, the Elis thought Saturday night’s contest against Columbia (2-21, 0-10) would be a repeat. But the Lions nipped at Yale’s heels the entire game, giving the Bulldogs (12-11, 6-4) a real scare in the second half before falling 71-59.
“These two wins were definitely important for our team morale,” guard Edwin Draughan ’05 said. “We had real balance scoring and a real team effort, and when you get everybody involved it’s great.”
When starting Yale center T.J. McHugh ’03 was charged with his fifth foul with 8:52 left in the second half Saturday, head coach James Jones knew he was in trouble. Jones’ backup center Justin Simon ’04 had fouled out less than four minutes earlier, and Columbia only trailed 44-39. Jones inserted forwards Paul Vitelli ’04 and Matt Minoff ’04, switched to a 2-3 zone, and hoped resilience and experience would pull it out.
“I didn’t have a great feeling at that point [after McHugh fouled out],” Jones said. “I had confidence in our guys and just hoped that Paul [Vitelli] and Matt [Minoff] would step up.”
At first, it appeared Yale would again slip into an offensive drought, like the ones that buried the Bulldogs against the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton last weekend. Minoff and Draughan missed an open 3-pointer and captain Chris Leanza ’03 turned the ball over and missed an open 24-footer.
But just when Jones began to think his worst fears were coming true, the Elis awoke. Yale made four of its next five shots, all which were from beyond the 3-point arc. As the smoke from the volley cleared, Jones looked at the scoreboard and saw his Bulldogs up by 13, 62-49.
“We thought we were in good shape when we got their big guys [McHugh and Simon] out of there,” Columbia head coach Armond Hill said. “But they went small, and they made their shots. Big time players make big baskets, and they knew they had to make their shots. We had chances, but we didn’t make ours.”
The Yale offense vacillated between hot and cold all night. After shooting 46.2 percent from the floor in the first half, the Elis missed 23 of the first 28 shots in the second half.
Offensive rebounds kept the Bulldogs in the game. After only three offensive rebounds in the first half, Yale tallied 13 in the second frame. Forward Ime Archibong ’03 grabbed six offensive boards, all in the second half.
“Ime [Archibong] is just a special talent,” Draughan said. “He’s just so athletic and so strong, his performance this game was a real boost to morale.”
Beside Archibong, Yale also got a much-needed lift from Vitelli and Minoff. Vitelli finished the night with nine boards and 12 points, including 3-for-4 shooting from downtown. Minoff contributed 13 points and seven rebounds.
“That’s the best Paul [Vitelli] played all year,” Jones said. “He hadn’t gotten 9 rebounds since earlier this year. When you’ve got a guy coming off the bench who can do that for you, that’s not bad.”
But the story of the night was Leanza, who had a game-high 17 points, seven assists and only one turnover. Leanza needs only 38 more points to move past 1,000 career points with four games left in the season. In addition, he is currently second in Yale history in career 3-pointers with 167.
“Leanza is a guy I wish I had on my team,” Hill said. “How much more can I say? He’s a terrific leader, and he’s got a huge heart. I recruited him. I remember how I was in his house. But the minute he visited Yale, I knew there was nothing I could do.”
On the previous night against Cornell, Yale led from the opening tip. Stifling Bulldog defense early in the game set the tone. Yale forced six Cornell turnovers in the first five and a half minutes. Meanwhile, the Yale offense took advantage, building an 11-0 lead in the first 4:12 of the game.
“When we started the game, the five of us agreed that we were going to focus on getting stops,” McHugh said. “We beat them pretty bad at their place, and we wanted to send them a message early not to get confident in our building.”
With Cornell closing the deficit, guards Mark Lovett ’04 and Scott Gaffield ’04 hit key 3-pointers to give Yale a 30-19 edge at the half. In the second half, Cornell never got within double digits; crisp passing and team defense kept the Big Red at bay all night.
“Their defense definitely had something to do with our shot selection,” Cornell head coach Steve Donahue said. “They took away a lot of the things that we wanted to do, and our kids became tentative. I don’t know what the difference between last year’s [Yale] team and this year’s team is. Yale hasn’t played like the team they were last year in some of the games this year, but when they play us, it seems like they’re the same old Yale.”