The John J. Lee Amphitheater seems to bring out the best in everyone who plays there, visitors and host alike.
This weekend, three players tallied career highs at “the Church.” Unfortunately, two of them were opponents of the men’s basketball team.
On Friday, Princeton (14-10 , 8-3 Ivy) forward Judson Wallace scored 23 points as the Tigers pounced on Yale 61-52. On Saturday, University of Pennsylvania guard Jeff Schiffner scored 26 to sneak the Quakers (19-5, 11-0) past the Elis 80-75. Leading the Elis (12-13, 6-6) was backup center Justin Simon ’04, who scored a career-high 18 points Saturday.
Although none of Yale’s three seniors — captain Chris Leanza ’03, center T.J. McHugh ’03 and forward Ime Archibong ’03 — had career highs, Saturday was still emotional. The Pennsylvania contest was the seniors’ last home game, and each senior was honored before tipoff.
“I feel just really empty right now,” Simon said after the Pennsylvania game. “Those guys poured their life into this program, and we could not let them end on a good note: with a win. They all provided leadership, not just last year but also this year. They have a great work ethic, and it’s something we all tried to emulate.”
With 1:45 left in the game and Pennsylvania ahead by just two, the crowd at the Amphitheater could smell an upset. Quaker guard David Klatsky called for a high screen and forward Ugonna Onyekwe came to the left elbow. Klatsky cut the screen with textbook execution, leaving his defender Leanza caught in the tangle of Onyekwe’s arms and legs. Yale center T.J. McHugh ’03 rotated to help and managed to get enough of a hand in the face of Klatsky to disturb the Quaker’s otherwise unobstructed layup. The ball spun on the edge of the rim for a second before Onyekwe towered from nowhere to tip in the ball for a 74-70 cushion.
On the other end of the court, McHugh was fouled but only made one of two attempts. With 33 seconds on the game clock, Yale’s only option was to foul. Schiffner, who did not seem to miss all night, made six consecutive free throws to ice the game.
Beside a perfect eight-for-eight from the foul line, Schiffner also shot six-of-seven from beyond the three-point arc and six-of-nine overall.
“Before the game, we said that we wanted to take [Penn guards] [Andrew] Toole, [Tim] Begely, and Schiffner out of the game,” Yale coach James Jones said. “We did two of those three things, but Schiffner got enough for all three of them.”
The bright spot for Yale was Simon, who shattered his career best of 13 points, set against Central Connecticut State University earlier this season. Six of Simon’s 18 point came off hard fought old-fashioned 3-point plays.
“[Simon] gave his heart,” Jones said. “He played the best game of his life. You look at what he did in 15 minutes: it’s ridiculous. If he played this way the whole season, we’d be the be best team in the league right now.”
Yale matched Pennsylvania shot for shot throughout the game. The largest lead was just seven points, and there were 10 lead changes. Although Yale and Pennsylvania shot evenly from the floor, the Quakers outrebounded Yale 32-25, including a 10-5 advantage on the offensive boards.
“The reason we lost this game is the reason we lost last year at the championship game,” Jones said. “It’s because of the offensive rebounding.”
Schiffner was no lone gunman; he had a full supporting cast. Onyekwe and forward Koko Archibong poured in 20 and 17 points, respectively, and backup center Adam Chubb chipped in 14.
It seemed two different Edwin Draughan’s ’05 showed this weekend. While he scored only four points in 24 minutes Saturday night, Draughan had a team-high 16 points against Princeton the night before.
Despite Draughan’s 16 points Friday, it was Princeton’s Wallace who stole the show. Wallace needed only one half to surpass his career previous best of 20, shooting four-for-six from beyond the arc and six-for-nine overall in the first half.
“You don’t think a kid that hits 14 3-pointers all season is going to go four-for-six from behind the arc in the first half,” Jones said. “That’s a shot you want him to take. I would say that if we played them again, I would still give him that shot.”
Yale left the gates strong Friday night. The Eli defense forced three consecutive Princeton turnovers to start the game. The Tigers did not even attempt a shot until two minutes into the game. Meanwhile, crisp passing gave Yale a quick 6-0 lead.
“They played well to start, and it took us longer than normal to get settled into things,” Princeton head coach John Thompson said.
But once the Tigers settled, they went on a tear. Sparked by a flurry of 3-pointers, including three from Wallace, Princeton went on a crushing 30-7 run, and the Tigers never looked back.
Offensively, the Bulldogs floundered all night, unable to find their rhythm. Every time the Elis gained momentum, they had their wings clipped by the Princeton offense, which seemed unstoppable.
“The thing about Princeton is that you can be focused for 29 of the 30 seconds that you’re in the half court,” Draughan said. “But for that one second you’re not, boom, it’s a backdoor, or boom, it’s a flare screen, and you’re struggling to get back.”
Despite the disappointment of losing two games this weekend, the imminent loss of their three senior teammates weighed even more heavily.
“I am disappointed that we lost but not disappointed with the way we played [this weekend],” Draughan said. “The three seniors especially played extremely well. It is just sad that this will be the last time that they will be able to play at John J. Lee.”