Even though two out of four is generally not a passing grade, the Eli men certainly merit extra credit for their efforts in four hotly contested games over winter break.
The Bulldogs not only avoided a schooling by the unbeaten Big East Conference power No. 25 Boston College (13-0), but they almost ruined the Eagles’ perfect run, losing in double overtime, 82-80 Dec. 19. The Elis also lost to frequent March Madness participant Charlotte by a narrow margin, 80-74, Dec. 28. The two losses provided experience in tight games, something which may be useful in often-close Ivy League contests. In their next two games versus Santa Clara and Fairfield, the Bulldogs showed more poise down the stretch, winning in overtime 90-84 and 60-57, respectively.
“The BC and Charlotte games taught us that if we play like a team, we can play [with] and beat anyone,” guard Eric Flato ’08 said. “It [gave] us some close game experience that helped us in our last 2 games.”
Throughout a difficult non-conference campaign in November and early December, it seemed that things were not quite adding up for the Bulldog rotation, whether it be a lack of confidence or situational experience. But lessons learned stopped the losing streak at four against Santa Clara.
“We learned in the Bucknell game that we have to keep our confidence up into overtime,” forward Casey Hughes ’07 said. “When Santa Clara hit a three at the buzzer [at the end of regulation] we just kept our heads up instead of sulking.”
While the frustration was visible on the court during its home opener against Bucknell Dec. 4, the Elis responded with poise against Santa Clara, having seen the same situation in the previous three games.
“We learned that we needed to keep our composure and trust each other,” captain Alex Gamboa ’05 said. “Guys are making plays for one another and playing like a team.”
With the Ivy League shaping up to be more of a free-for-all this year than ever, the wins and losses over break may give the Elis the necessary preparation to succeed against their conference foes in tense games. The Bulldogs trailed by 10 at the half against Fairfield Jan. 5, but clawed back within seven with 6:08 remaining before going on an 11-2 run. With 56 seconds remaining in the game, Gamboa hit a three that gave the Bulldogs the lift to win the game.
“The key to winning in close game situations is not being tentative and nervous but to be aggressive on offense and defense,” Hughes said. “This was the key to the Fairfield game. Having shot-makers like Alex Gamboa does not hurt.”
Another lesson learned from the Fairfield game was the ability of the Elis to make adjustments at halftime, forward Caleb Holmes ’08 said, not letting the whole game pass before learning from mistakes.
“We had way too many turnovers in the first half, but we took care of the ball and got good shots in the second half to come back for the win,” Holmes said.
With two solid wins under their belts, the Bulldogs hope to extend their streak to three against American tonight.