The clear winners at the John J. Lee Amphitheater this weekend were the fans. The Elis treated consecutive sell-out crowds of 2,532 to back-to-back thrillers against the “Killer P’s.”
On Friday, Yale (6-11, 1-3 Ivy) beat the University of Pennsylvania (7-8, 0-2) 54-52. The following night the Bulldogs fell 49-47 to Princeton (9-6, 2-0).
“It’s the best we’ve played in probably two years,” Yale head coach James Jones said of the two games. “[The players] did a phenomenal job this weekend.”
Yale led by three points with a minute to play in the Princeton contest. Tiger center Mike Stephens scored to cut the lead to one, and guard Edwin Draughan ’05 missed a jumper on Yale’s next possession.
Princeton’s Andre Logan, who led all scorers with 16 points, missed an off-balance shot with six seconds left, but teammate Will Venable recovered the ball and made a reverse lay-up. It was his first field goal attempt of the game, but after converting the “and-one” Venable had given the Tigers their two-point winning margin.
“We did a good job [rebounding] all night long, and then they got two offensive rebounds in the last minute,” Jones said. “We missed nine [free throws in the second half], and at least two of those were [the front end of] one-and-ones.”
The Bulldogs struggled from the foul line, converting only 59.1 percent of their uncontested attempts.
Princeton head coach John Thompson knew how close the Bulldogs had come to edging out a victory.
“We’re lucky to be walking away [from] here with a win,” Thompson said. “We were very fortunate that [Venable’s] only shot of the game went in.”
Draughan, guard Alex Gamboa ’05 and forward Sam Kaplan ’07 all had nine points. Center Dominick Martin ’05 was three of four for seven points against his former team, but fouled out with just under two and half minutes to play.
“Sam Kaplan was terrific,” Jones said. “We missed him in the first two games of the Ivy League [season].”
Yale shot just two-of-13 from 3-point range on Saturday but only committed five turnovers.
Despite dropping the nailbiter to Princeton Saturday night, the Elis were on the right side of a two-point margin the night before against Penn. Vitelli hit a three with about one and a half minutes remaining to tie the score at 52. Then with seven seconds remaining, Draughan drove the middle of the lane and kicked to Vitelli in the corner.
Vitelli missed but was fouled and went to the line for three shots. He made two of three and put Yale up 54-52. Penn’s Ibrahim Jaaber missed a runner, and Matt Minoff ’04 grabbed the carom to seal the victory.
Draughan led the Elis with 18 points, and Minoff contributed 10. Martin was the game’s high rebounder with 11.
“[The Penn victory was] a big win for us for a lot of different reasons,” Jones said. “The kids played with great energy and were very aggressive. It’s when you’re passive that [turnovers] hurt you.”
Though Vitelli certainly made the clutch shots, it was the captain, Minoff, who was cited as the reason for Yale’s victory Friday. Minoff held the Quaker’s leading scorer, deadly shooter Jeff Schiffner, to four points (he averaged 13.8 heading into the game).
“Whoever [Minoff] was guarding I don’t think scored all night,” Penn’s high-scorer Tim Begley said. “He covered me a couple of times, and I didn’t even come close to scoring.”
Jones echoed Begley’s praise.
“Jeff Schiffner smells like Matt Minoff because [Minoff] was so close to [Schiffner],” Jones said. “We haven’t had that [kind of] play since Ime Archibong [’03] left the program.”
Though the loss to Princeton has further dimmed Yale’s title hopes, they are not extinguished.
“I think this weekend will give us a lot of confidence,” Minoff said. “Even though we lost [Saturday], I still feel like we put forth a great effort. We’re not out of this thing, so we have to keep fighting.”
Gamboa stated that the team had no choice but to win the rest of the games on its schedule, but he said he expects a winning streak to start.
Penn head coach Fran Dunphy said he thought the Yale fans were into the game and that it was “a great atmosphere.” Even after losing to Princeton, Jones was confident Yalies would continue to be enthusiastic about the team.
“If people came to the games this weekend, they’ll be back next weekend,” Jones said.
If Yale’s first three Ivy home games — an overtime loss to Brown and this weekend’s contests against Penn and Princeton — are any indication of the quality of games to come, it would be a mistake for the Eli faithful not to return.
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