After a comatose first half against American University (6-5) last night, the men’s basketball team found its pulse in the second, but a 22-point halftime deficit pulled them under in the end for a 69-65 loss.
Although the Bulldogs (4-8) were well aware that their opponent is the 18th-best three-pointer shooting team in the nation (41 percent), poor perimeter defense and anticipation of screens left Eagles’ sharpshooter Jason Thomas practically wide open. Thomas took full advantage, knocking down three-pointers on the first three possessions of the game, putting Yale down 9-3.
“I was upset with our effort,” head coach James Jones said. “It should not take 20 minutes to start playing. We scouted [American’s] three-point shot, and everybody knew about it.”
Throughout the rest of the first half, the Bulldogs responded in copy-cat fashion, effectively allowing the Eagles to set the game’s tempo. On virtually each trip down the floor, the Elis settled for jump-shots off the first pass down the floor and three-pointers.
“We were taking too many one-pass jump shots,” forward Sam Kaplan ’07 said. “We were letting them dictate how the game was being played.”
A slow start from Dominick Martin ’06, who went 1-for-8 in the first half, and Kaplan (0-for-2) was another nail in the coffin for the Eli offense. Without Martin or Kaplan as a threat inside, the Eagles did not have to rely on double teams down low, which allowed constant pressure on the Bulldogs’ outside shooters. After heading into the locker room down 47-25 and having shot 26 percent for the half, the Elis “didn’t have anywhere to go but up,” American head coach Jeff Jones said.
In order to go up, however, the Bulldogs went in — to the post, that is, with Martin opening scoring for the half and Kaplan following on the next possession. After Martin and Kaplan returned to form, the Eagles had no choice but to double down on the low post, which left guards Edwin Draughan ’05 and Casey Hughes ’07 free to both penetrate and shoot from the wing.
“[In the second half] we established an inside game which helped us a lot,” Kaplan said. “We re-established our inside game and opened it up for everyone else.”
On the defensive end, the Bulldogs buckled down, turning in a stellar effort which resulted in eight second-half steals. After denying the first four American possessions and forcing a bad shot, the Elis converted their opportunities into a 10-0 run, forcing American to call a time-out just three minutes into the half.
A reverse lay-up by Casey Hughes at the 16:40 mark brought the house down for the first of many times in the second half, but it could not compare with the pandemonium brought on by Dexter Upshaw ’06’s performance with just over 10 minutes to go. After grabbing a big defensive rebound, Upshaw pulled down a huge offensive rebound and went back up, getting fouled in the process. Both free throws arched perfectly through the net, bringing Yale within four with 9:50 to go. After yet another defensive rebound, Upshaw recovered a missed shot for a put-back with 9:10 remaining, bringing the score to 52-50 and the crowd to its feet.
“If everybody [on the Yale team] played like Dexter Upshaw, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about a loss,” Jones said.
Upshaw ended the game with a career-high 11 rebounds, nine of which were offensive.
Despite consistently being within one or two possessions, the Bulldogs came within a field goal only one more time in the final minutes of the second half, on a Draughan three-pointer with 3.7 seconds remaining, bringing the score to 67-65. A quick foul put Patrick Opawe on the line, who converted both shots, putting the game out of reach for the Elis. The Eagles shot 84.2 percent from the line, hitting seven straight attempts to end the game.
“We just dug ourselves too deep of a whole,” Kaplan said. “You can’t dig yourself a 22-point hole on your home court.”