Charles Dickens began his famous novel “Tale of Two Cities” with the line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” On the defensive end, the Yale men’s basketball team (9-12, 4-4 Ivy) had just such a weekend.
The Elis extended their winning streak to three by beating Dartmouth (3-19, 1-7) for the seventh straight game. Friday night’s 78-40 victory margin was also Yale’s largest of the season. But on Saturday the Bulldogs fell 78-71 to a weak Harvard (3-18, 2-6) squad and essentially eliminated all hopes of making it to the postseason.
“I think Friday night was definitely a good game, and Saturday night was definitely a bad one,” captain Matt Minoff ’04 said. “But I don’t know if I’d call them the best and the worst [of the season]. We didn’t play as well as we could have [on Saturday], and [Harvard] played a pretty good game. I look at our games against Penn and Cornell and I think those were probably better games [than against Dartmouth].”
Yale led the Crimson by two with just over four minutes left, but Harvard guard Kevin Rogus answered with a three-pointer that gave the Cantabs a lead they would not relinquish. Rogus finished six of 10 from three-point range with 22 points in only 26 minutes. Teammate Jason Norman was three of four from beyond the arc, as the Crimson combined for 55 percent from downtown.
“We didn’t guard dribble penetration real well,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “[The Cantabs] were able to kick to open shooters. [Rogus] got open looks off dribble penetration and he gained some confidence and then he hit some tough shots.”
Minoff agreed that defense cost the Elis the game.
“I think the reason we had been winning was because we were really just shutting teams down,” he said. “[Harvard] was able to get around us and get open threes. I don’t know if people were tired, or maybe we were a little overconfident and thought ‘Harvard is two and 17’ and took them lightly. But for some reason the defense wasn’t there.”
Even without the defensive intensity, the Bulldogs were still in a position to seize the win, or at least force an overtime. With 28 seconds left and Yale down two, Minoff grabbed a rebound. Jones said that instead of calling a set play he hoped that an Eli could drive to the basket to create an opportunity or draw a foul. Yale guard Edwin Draughan ’05, whose 21 points were tops for the Bulldogs, drove the lane but his shot was blocked with 11 seconds left.
“There was certainly contact,” Jones said. “Two players hit the floor, Edwin [Draughan] included. There was contact there and there was no call made.”
Forward Paul Vitelli ’04 immediately fouled to stop the clock. Meanwhile, Jones’ response to the no-call drew a technical foul. Those two infractions gave Harvard four free throws and the ball, effectively sealing the game.
Jones said he apologized to the team after the game for losing his cool and then talked about what the Bulldogs had not done defensively.
“We shouldn’t have put ourselves in that position,” Minoff said. “I would never blame coach Jones. We’re the ones out on the court. We’re the ones who didn’t play defense all game. It’s definitely on us.”
Offensively, Jones thought Yale attempted too many three-pointers, but emphasized that defense was at the root of the Eli defeat.
“I thought we would have been better off driving at the basket more,” Jones said. “[But] the offense wasn’t the problem.  is enough points to win any Ivy League game, especially against a team that averages 64.”
Friday night’s game against Dartmouth was almost completely different from Saturday’s result. After taking a seven-point margin into halftime, the Bulldogs out-scored the Big Green 49-18 in the second half.
“Defense was definitely the key,” Yale guard Alex Gamboa ’05 said of the win over Dartmouth. “The difference in the second half was our defensive intensity and getting stops.”
Gamboa, who has scored at least 15 points in Yale’s last three contests, connected on five of his six three-point attempts.
Yale’s freshmen continued to impress over the weekend. Guard Casey Hughes ’07 posted a career-high 14 points against Dartmouth and forward Sam Kaplan ’07 followed suit with a career-best 12 against Harvard. At times against the Crimson, Jones elected to use Kaplan as center rather than one of the Dominick Martin ’05 and Justin Simon ’04 duo. Jones said that he thought Kaplan was a better defensive option.
It is close to impossible to imagine a scenario in which Yale’s season extended past its March 6 match-up against Columbia. But according to Minoff, there is still a lot to play for.
“In the seniors’ careers we still haven’t gone down to Penn or Princeton and won at their place,” he said. “Harvard comes [to Yale] and we definitely owe them a good butt-kicking. In every game left, we have something to prove.”
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