The frustration of the Eli faithful was palpable during the first half of Yale’s home-opener at the John J. Lee Amphitheater Thursday night. But in the eye of the storm, Yale men’s basketball head coach James Jones remained characteristically calm. In the second half, Jones’s composure rubbed off on the Bulldogs, who steadied their nerves and unleashed their pent-up angst on Sacred Heart (2-3), finally triumphing 73-59.
“It’s always my feeling that I have to be the calm influence on the team,” Jones said. “[In] a 40-minute basketball game, it takes some time to get clicking.”
Yale (4-2) went into the half with a slim two-point lead and even relinquished the edge briefly early in the second half.
“It was a hectic game,” Sacred Heart head coach Dave Bike said. The contest included 29 fouls on Bike’s squad and 33 combined turnovers.
After a sloppy first half, Yale turned the game around with a 30-7 run in the second frame.
“I think the key thing was that we were aggressive,” guard Alex Gamboa ’05 said. “Our guys were determined to get to the rim. I remember [forward Paul] Vitelli [’04] crashing the glass.”
Vitelli’s work on the boards helped put the game out of reach for Yale, who finished with a 47-35 rebounding edge. Vitelli grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
“Coach [Jones] has emphasized rebounding,” Vitelli said. “[Jones] wanted someone to take it upon themselves to get 10 rebounds and I was going to take it upon myself.”
Gamboa was the offensive centerpiece for the Bulldogs. He finished with 16 points including two-of-three from beyond the arc, three assists, three steals, three rebounds and a block.
“Alex has been taking 50 extra threes after practice each day,” Jones said. “It’s helped him.”
Center Dominick Martin ’05 had an inauspicious zero-for-five start, but finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Guard Scott Gaffield ’04 contributed 13 more points to the Eli cause. Maurice Bailey led the Pioneers with 16 points.
On Sunday, Yale will face a much stiffer test with it takes on Fairfield (3-1) at home. The Stags edged out the Elis 59-57 last season.
“I think [the Stags] have most of their guys back,” forward Mark Lovett ’05 said. “They beat St. John’s. They have some quality wins this year, and they’re strong inside.”
Vitelli echoed Lovett’s sentiments.
“[Fairfield is] very physical,” Vitelli said. “They have a couple of 7-footers [Rob Thomson and Deng Gai are listed at 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-9, respectively] that can really jump and alter shots.”
But Vitelli was far from pessimistic.
“We think we are [the favorites],” he said. “We know we are.”
Sunday’s matchup will be the Bulldogs’ second game at the John J. Lee Amphitheater this season. Last year, the Elis didn’t have their first home game until Jan. 8 when they took on Rhode Island.
“I think in the long run playing home games is very beneficial,” Lovett said. “Traveling takes a lot out of you. It’s a lot more relaxing to play at home. We have school pressures just like everyone else, and playing at home makes that easier.”
The home games should help students get behind a basketball team that has the potential to be even better than the 2001-2002 Ivy Championship squad.
“[The home games] are going to be great for building excitement on campus,” captain Matt Minoff ’04 said. “Being that most of our games are not televised it’ps hard for students to get into the season until they are able to come watch games.”
Performances like that of Gamboa and Vitelli should help attract even more fans to Yale’s matchup with Fairfield.
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