The men’s basketball team would like to make a statement to their home crowd Saturday night. When they take the court against Saint Peter’s (5-8) in their final non-conference game of the season, the Elis (4-8) want to show Yalies they are going to compete for the Ivy title — and maybe even win it.
The Bulldogs also have other motivations in this particular game. The team would like to rebound from Monday’s demoralizing 69-65 loss at home to American, a game in which the Elis were outscored 47-25 in the first half. What’s more, the team’s returning starters, captain/guard Alex Gamboa ’05, guard Edwin Draughan ’05 and center Dominic Martin ’06, were on the court when Saint Peter’s won in overtime on a buzzer beater, 80-78, in last season’s meeting.
Gamboa said while he remembers last year’s encounter well, there is a more important reason for winning against the Peacocks.
“For the guys that were around last year, you definitely remember that game,” Gamboa said. “That’s definitely a tough way to lose, and we’d like to get them back for that. But then again, that’s not our main motivation. We need to make sure we play really well in the last non-conference game and get some momentum going into the Ivy League season.”
The primary obstacle to achieving victory resides in the form of five-foot, nine-inch junior guard Keydren Clark. The Peacocks’ Clark dropped a game-high 37 points on the Elis the last time around, including the game-winning lean-in jumper at the buzzer in overtime.
This season Clark has continued to score in buckets. He is second in scoring (25.0 ppg) among all guards who compete in NCAA basketball, trailing only Ronnie Price (25.1 ppg) of Utah Valley State. Saint Peter’s also has scoring threats in three other players averaging double figures in points per game.
As a team, the Peacocks are averaging an impressive 78.5 points per game but also surrender 78.7 points per game. Yale’s 71.6 points per game leads all Ivy League teams, but the Elis too have struggled defensively, allowing a League-high 77.2 points per game. What does all this mean? John J. Lee Amphitheater might see more than a few baskets made on Saturday night.
A week later the Bulldog squad will open its Ivy League campaign against Brown at home. As the Elis look ahead to their Ivy opener, they can also look back at a grueling non-conference schedule in which they played nine of their first ten games on the road and challenged some of the top teams in the country. While the Bulldogs racked up a fair number of losses, those defeats came at the hands of, among others, No. 4 Wake Forest, No. 13 Boston College and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
Head coach James Jones believes that aside from the drawback of a losing record, the tough early season schedule has prepared the Elis for the Ivy League season.
“We’ve been tested. We’ve seen just about everything we’ll see come the Ivy season,” Jones said. “We’ve been double-teamed, zoned, trapped. We’ve played against great point guards, great forwards and great centers. So I hope we’ve learned something through that preparation.”
Forward Dexter Upshaw ’06 added that all this time on the road has calloused the Elis to foreign confines.
“Because we’re used to playing on the road, used to waking up in a hotel and going to pre-game, and all those things that come with traveling as a team, come the Ivy League season, when you’re at their place, people’s comments don’t affect you the same way,” Upshaw said.
Forward Sam Kaplan ’07 described yet another positive of playing against the best.
“It helps us to never stop playing, to never give up,” Kaplan said. “We’ve been down in a lot of games, and we’ve come back in a lot of games. We’re not the best team; we can’t go out and beat teams by 30. We have to play hard or else we will lose.”
Kaplan will be in the line-up on Saturday despite a sore back. The 6-foot-7 forward has suffered from back ailments through much of his collegiate career. But Kaplan said with the help of a contraction table — a descendant of the medieval rack — he has been able to keep playing.
“You lie on the table, you get strapped under your armpits and around the waist,” Kaplan said. “It basically pulls you apart at your spine. It tries to pull apart the vertebrae and hopefully the disk slips back into place in order to release pressure on the nerves that it pushes on.”