With a roster replete with upperclassmen, and a starting lineup including three juniors and two seniors, the Yale men’s basketball team is on the older side. But age has not precluded the Bulldogs from the same growing pains that teams typically sustain early in the season.
The Elis’ experience was evident in their season opener when they led the then-top ranked University of Connecticut by three points at the half. Subsequent wins against Eastern Michigan and Coastal Carolina at the Pepsi-Marist Classic, which Yale won, further demonstrated the Bulldogs’ maturity.
Yale’s play of late, however, has been sophomoric.
In their last three contests, the Bulldogs have gone 1-2, which is not bad considering one of the losses was to No. 12 Wake Forest. But the veteran Elis have looked green, at times like rookies, committing numerous turnovers and making poor decisions.
This should not come as a surprise. Despite having multiple collegiate seasons under their belts, many Elis find themselves in new positions, situations and environments this year.
At the core of the adjustment process is Princeton transfer center Dominick Martin ’05. Martin, who currently leads the team in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding (5.3 rpg), provides an entirely different look in the paint from last year’s big-man T.J. McHugh ’03, Yale head coach James Jones said.
“We depended on T.J. [McHugh] to make defensive stops,” Jones said. “Dominick [Martin] is more of an offensive player. He is an excellent scorer on the block. You can run your offense through Dominick; you really couldn’t do that with T.J.”
The Bulldogs have not yet fully adjusted to the presence of Martin, as was apparent in Sunday’s 71-57 loss to Fairfield. In the second half, the Stags got themselves into early foul trouble and were over the limit by the 12:08 mark. But rather than pounding the ball inside with the hope of an easy basket or getting to the free throw line, the Bulldogs continued to settle for outside shots.
For the game, 40 percent of the Bulldogs’ shots came from behind the arc, but they managed to convert on less than a quarter.
“[Not getting the ball inside] was more of something they did last year,” Fairfield head coach Tim O’Toole said.
In addition to finding Martin in the middle, the Bulldogs have their own individual shifts to deal with, too.
Guard Alex Gamboa ’05 and forward Paul Vitelli ’04 have regained their starting roles after coming off the bench last season.
Captain Matt Minoff ’04 who switched between several spots on the floor for the Elis last season, has struggled from the floor this season. He came into Sunday’s game shooting 0-12 from three-point range and only ended the streak with six minutes remaining in the first half. Minoff, who is averaging 5.7 points per game, got into the double digits in scoring for the first time this season (10 points), showing signs of picking up his game.
Guard Edwin Draughan ’05, meanwhile, who led the team in scoring for the past two years, has been one of the more consistent performers for Yale this fall. But every player has his off days, which was the case for Draughan against Fairfield. Draughan had six points on 3-for-11 shooting and six turnovers. He has had to adapt as well, moving over to the point from the two-spot when Gamboa is out.
“I don’t think it’s team chemistry,” Draughan said, referring to the team’s recent slump. “It’s really just come down to not playing well in certain stretches and a couple of bad turnovers.”
The Bulldogs are not going to sort out their problems overnight, but there is no hurry. They have six more games before the start of the Ivy League season leaving them ample time to adjust and allow their play to catch up to their ages.
“That’s what the non-conference season is for,” Jones said.