As the bus rolls across the Tappan Zee Bridge tomorrow en route to Columbia, the Bulldog men hope to be in a different state of mind.

The men’s basketball team (4-12, 0-2 Ivy) has traveled a trying course thus far, playing 12 of their 16 games on the road, the most recent being a disheartening loss to Penn and a deceptive 58-43 loss to Princeton.

“It’s been a tough road so far,” forward Dexter Upshaw ’06 said. “The toughest challenge [in Ivy League play] is the Penn-Princeton weekend at Penn and Princeton, and now we’ve crossed that bridge.”

Whether or not the Bulldogs can effectively move on is the question now, with hope becoming a consistent point of emphasis. For head coach James Jones, it all starts with the spark in his players’ eyes.

“I’m hoping everybody steps up this weekend,” Jones said. “We really didn’t have anyone playing exceptionally well this [past] weekend; [everyone] needs to do better. We need a boost from somebody unexpected as well.”

The absence of an integral sixth man has hurt the Bulldogs’ efforts this season, but without a role player to fill that void, the Elis’ best bet is good, old-fashioned hard work, Sam Kaplan ’07 said.

“We’ve really got to focus on playing hard at all times,” Kaplan said. “We tend not to play very hard [during] stretches [of the game].”

Coming out of the halftime huddle and leading the defending-champion Tigers 26-24, the Bulldogs lacked the dogged resolve to overcome questionable calls. In the first five minutes of the half, the Elis racked up four turnovers, three fouls and did not hit a field goal, allowing the Tigers to seize momentum that would carry them through the rest of the game.

“We had some costly turnovers that hurt us and some key moments that the whistle got to us,” Jones said. “We never got into a rhythm [in the second half].”

Another part of the problem, which also pervaded the Penn game, was the Elis’ hesitancy to go after 50-50 balls, Kaplan explained.

“Everyone’s got to take it upon themselves to dive on that loose ball and give the extra effort,” Kaplan said. “When there’s a loose ball on the ground, guys weren’t diving after it. Princeton and Penn got those loose balls.”

The contrast between the sloppy Penn game and the strong first half at Princeton is completely a result of the Elis’ intensity, Upshaw said.

“I don’t think that we had the intensity level we needed to play on Friday night,” Upshaw said. “Coming into the [first half] Princeton game, we had a better understanding of what we need to do and we brought a better intensity.”

The statistics from this weekend’s games were not pretty and improved offensive execution is a must, but for the Bulldogs to have a chance at salvaging their Ivy title hopes, gritty play will have to become a standard.

“We [have to] play with unbelievable intensity every game and follow our game plan,” Kaplan said. “We’re going to be tough to beat.”