Among the thousands who tuned in to ESPN2 Nov. 17 to see the opening round of the preseason-NIT was Wake Forest guard Justin Gray.
He watched as Yale outplayed No. 1 UConn in the first half and came close to pulling off an earth-shattering upset. He was not about to let the Bulldogs do that to his team.
“I saw them leading at the half,” said Gray, referring to the Bulldogs’ 31-28 halftime lead over the Huskies.
Using a balanced offense and in-the-face defensive pressure, Gray and the No. 18 Demon Deacons handily defeated Yale, 86-51, Saturday at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport.
“Our players were cognizant of the UConn game,” Wake Forest head coach Skip Prosser said. “We came into [Saturday’s] game with a tremendous amount of respect for them. We did not allow them to get off to a good start, which was important.”
Unlike the UConn contest, in which the Huskies rallied for a 70-60 win, the outcome of Yale-Wake game was uncontested from the beginning.
Wake never trailed, scoring the game’s first five points and opening up a nine-point lead by the seven-minute mark.
The Deacons went into the break ahead 41-27, and stretched their lead to upwards of 29 points in the second half.
“The big key was we did not do a good job of handling pressure,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “We backed down.”
Four different players reached double figures for Wake. Forward Jamaal Levy led all scorers with 19 points and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds. Gray added 15 points, center Eric Williams 12 and forward Vytas Danelius 10.
The Bulldogs hurt themselves with 20 turnovers, including four in their first five possessions. They were not able — or allowed — to get into any sort of offensive rhythm.
Wake Forest, the defending regular season ACC champion, applied pressure throughout the game, forcing miscues, coming up with steals, and disrupting Yale’s game-plan.
The Bulldog guards were pushed deep on the perimeter, and center Dominick Martin ’05, who already had his hands full with the 6’9″ 275-pound Williams, was limited to four shots in the first half.
“I am not sure if we were expecting that kind of pressure,” guard Alex Gamboa ’05 said. “They came out with a lot of intensity. We did not match that intensity.”
Martin paced Yale with 15 points and five rebounds.
Guard Edwin Draughan ’05 contributed 11 points, while forwards Sam Kaplan ’07 and Casey Hughes ’07 chipped in with eight apiece.
Prosser said his team’s intensity is one of its strengths.
“We got to a lot of 50-50 balls, a lot of 50-50 rebounds,” Prosser said. “We put a lot of emphasis on that. That is something we are very, very good at.”
Jones praised the Deacons and the job Prosser has done at Wake Forest. Last year, Prosser, in only his second year at Wake, was named the ACC Coach of the Year and was also a finalist for the Naismith National Coach of the Year.
“They are as good a coached team as we have seen in the past three years,” said Jones, who was quick to add that Yale’s performance Saturday was not true to the team’s capability.
“We are a much better basketball team than we showed,” Jones said. “Wake Forest is a very good team, but no one in the country is 26 points better than we are.”
The Bulldogs came into Saturday’s game having won their last three games after falling to UConn in their season opener. They beat Eastern Michigan, 75-60, Nov. 22 and Coastal Carolina, 70-65, the following day, to capture the Pepsi-Marist Classic in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Yale then edged Bucknell, 63-62, Nov. 26, in Lewisburg, Penn.
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