If last weekend was that of the “Killer P’s,” this weekend was that of the “Easy C’s” for Yale.
The Eli men’s basketball team (8-11, 3-3 Ivy) entered the weekend with four-game win streaks against Columbia (6-13, 2-4) and Cornell (10-9, 5-1), and by Saturday night that stretch had been extended to five each.
The weekend sweep was far from a foregone conclusion, however. Columbia’s only Ivy losses had come at the hands of Cornell — one of only two undefeated teams in the league before Yale bested them 67-48 on Saturday night. That win came on the heels of a 63-58 squeaker that Yale head coach James Jones pulled out over his brother, first-year Columbia head coach Joe Jones.
“We’re a different team than we were three weeks ago,” James Jones said. “We’re a possession away from being five and one.”
Cornell was billed as the harder game of the two, but it was Columbia that took a four point lead into the half and led by a basket with under four minutes to play. Forward Paul Vitelli ’04, whose two free throws with seven seconds remaining won the Penn game last weekend, came up big for the Elis again. Vitelli nailed a three to reclaim the Bulldog lead and then made a jumper with 2:23 remaining to give Yale a three point margin.
“I’m kind of upset that we got to the point where [Vitelli] had to make those shots,” James Jones said. “I was more proud of our team in our loss to Princeton than in our win against Columbia.”
One would have thought Columbia won Friday night’s contest given the attitudes of the Jones brothers.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Joe Jones said. “We established the fact that we’re going to compete every night. I want my guys to know I’m in the fight with them. I love these guys. I love the fact that they went out and played that hard for me.”
James Jones was happy with one player, though. Guard Casey Hughes ’07, scored a career-high 11 points off of four-of-six shooting from the floor, including a perfect two-for-two from downtown.
“[Hughes] stepped up,” James Jones said. “He’s just a puppy. He’s going to be a killer in this league.”
Hughes was happy to have been able to contribute.
“Last week, I didn’t really play my role,” he said. “And I wanted to redeem myself. This game today was a running game, and that’s where I thrive.”
Center Dominick Martin ’05 led Yale with 14 points on six-of-nine from the field and six rebounds. Guards Edwin Draughan ’05 and Alex Gamboa ’05 scored eight a piece, and Vitelli finished with 13.
On Saturday, the Elis embarrassed the Ivy League’s leading offense, holding the Big Red to a meager 28 percent from the field. Big Red guards Ka’Ron Barnes and Cody Toppert, who were combining for almost 39 points per game coming into this weekend, were held to 17 in the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
“[Yale] really smothered us on the perimeter,” Cornell head coach Steve Donahue said. “We just laid an egg. We played poor half-court offense. We’ve been getting away with playing transition most of the season.”
Yale never trailed in the game and led by 14 at the half. But Cornell had whittled the lead down to eight with just over seven minutes to go. Gamboa responded with a 3-pointer and two straight assists to build the lead back to 14 and secure the victory.
“[Gamboa] did a terrific job,” Donahue said. “I think he really stepped up. He came and answered the bell tonight for sure.”
Gamboa led all scorers with 16 points to go with five assists against only two turnovers. Minoff had 14 along with eight rebounds, two blocks, and a steal.
“The defense won us the game,” Minoff said. “They [Cornell] don’t seem to really want to play defense so when they’re not shooting it takes away their momentum.”
Jones agreed that the Eli defensive effort was what won the game.
“Our defense is what fuels us,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to win when you shoot 28 percent [as Cornell did].”
While Yale was pounding on the Big Red, Princeton narrowly escaped a major upset to Harvard in double overtime. A Crimson victory would have been almost as big a win for Yale as the two the Elis picked up this weekend.
With four road games looming, the Bulldogs are well aware of their position.
“Any loss will take us out of contention,” Minoff said.
Yale’s play on Saturday against the Big Red suggests that running the table might not be quite as impossible a task as it seemed a week ago.
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