With 40.2 seconds left on the clock, Eli reserves Josh Greenberg ’06, Jason Abromaitis ’07 and Matt Kyle ’08 took the court for the first time all night. The packed crowd at John J. Lee Amphitheater rose to its feet, welcoming the bench players as one more sign that victory was at hand.
Hundreds of Yale fans erupted as the 5-foot-7 Greenburg hit a three-pointer and then rushed the court Saturday after the Elis (9-12, 5-3 Ivy) handed the University of Pennsylvania (15-8, 8-1) its first Ivy League loss of the season, 78-60. One night earlier, they beat the reigning conference champion, Princeton (12-11, 3-6), 56-43 for the first time in three years.
“Everybody’s extremely happy,” guard Edwin Draughan ’05 said. “This is the pinnacle of the Ivy League, Penn and Princeton. To sweep them is just an amazing feeling, especially since Penn has been playing so well and they were undefeated.”
In their victory over Penn, the Elis proved that the league’s best team is not invincible. Entering Saturday’s game, the Quakers were a perfect 7-0 in the Ancient Eight, the first of those victories coming at home in a 24-point blasting of the Elis three weeks ago.
Since that first weekend of Ivy play, in which the Elis lost to Penn and Princeton on the road, the Bulldogs have won six of seven contests and climbed from last place to second. Perhaps more importantly, they have proved to their Ivy peers that there is nothing inevitable about Penn’s achieving its third title in four years.
Draughan showed Penn and Princeton how far the Elis have come since those opening weekend losses, dropping 20 points against the Tigers and 19 more the next night against the Quakers.
The Bulldogs gave the raucous home crowd reason to be rowdy all weekend long with loose-ball scrambles, clutch three-pointers, and high-flying dunks. But ultimately the source of their resurgence was on the defensive end.
The same opposing players who sank the Elis three weeks ago found themselves suffocated by the Bulldogs’ defense. Penn’s leading scorer, guard Tim Begley, had no points on 0-for-6 shooting despite playing all but one minute in Saturday’s game. Princeton’s top scorer, center Judson Wallace, was held to three points.
“Telltale sign of the [Penn] game, we out-rebounded them 42-33,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “That’s what they normally do to other teams. This is probably our widest rebound margin in the league and that’s what helped us win the basketball game. If you turn those rebound margins around, it’s going to be difficult for us to win the game.”
The Elis trailed early against the Quakers, 16-9, but bounced back to take their first lead of the night with 5:55 left in the half on a free throw by forward Nick Holmes ’08. They would never trail again. Guard Eric Flato ’08 picked off a Penn pass in the final seconds of the half, running the length of the court for a layup to give the Elis a 35-30 lead.
The Elis pushed their lead to as many as nine points early in the second half before the Quakers made one last challenge. Forward Mark Zoller’s layup at 15:25 cut Penn’s deficit to 41-39. But Draughan responded by scoring on three straight possessions, starting with a leaning jump-shot off of the glass and ending with a three-pointer in front of the Eli bench. He then stole the ball the next time down, setting up a three-pointer by Flato to put Yale up 51-42.
The Quakers pulled within eight before Eli forward Casey Hughes ’07 drove baseline and elevated over Penn forward Steve Danley for a soaring dunk, on the same evening, fittingly, as the NBA’s dunk contest. The slam seemed to break Penn’s spirit for good: The Quakers never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
Hughes was fouled on the play, but Draughan shot the free throw because Hughes re-injured his shoulder and bloodied his nose on the dunk. He has not played many minutes in the last two weekends because of the shoulder injury. Jones said he was to be evaluated yesterday.
Penn continually deployed a full-court press but the Elis either broke through or drew a foul every time. Zoller was the only Quaker to whom the Bulldogs never found an answer on defense, scoring a game-high 22 points. He banged around all night in the post against the twin brothers Nick and Caleb Holmes ’08. Caleb Holmes and Zoller both drew technical fouls midway through the second half in a loose-ball scramble.
“It was pretty physical,” Zoller said. “Some banging, some words being said, stuff like that, but that’s just the nature of the game. [Yale] played pretty tough in the post. They were crashing the offensive boards pretty hard.”
Begley and Penn head coach Fran Dunphy both credited Draughan’s offense and defense on Begley as key to Yale’s win. Draughan started off slow, shooting 2-for-9 in the first half. But he came on when needed most and shot 4-for-5 in the second half.
“There was one point in the game when Edwin traveled,” Jones said. “The coaches were telling me, ‘You’re giving the ball to him every time,’ and I go, ‘Well, until they stop him, I’m going to give him the ball.'”
A night earlier against Princeton, Draughan got off to a lightning-fast start, scoring 10 points in the first 15 minutes on 5-for-8 shooting. Caleb Holmes opened the game with a three-pointer and the Elis never trailed. Holmes’ three-point shot was followed by a Draughan layup and then a three-pointer from Gamboa to put the Elis up early, 8-1. The Bulldogs led comfortably, 28-16, at the half.
The Tigers pulled within five points at 3:24 in the second half, but Draughan answered the push with two quick baskets, and the Elis cruised to victory.
“I initially came to this game knowing that if we were going to win, I was going to have to have a very good game,” Draughan said. “I think [I was needed] more on offense than defense because defense is our whole team.”
Both Dunphy and Princeton head coach Joe Scott praised Draughan’s play.
“That kid’s playing like he might be the best player in the league right now,” Scott said.
Dunphy said Draughan’s 19 points against his Quakers came as no surprise to him.
“I’ve always respected his game,” Dunphy said. “He’s an outstanding player. Obviously his defense tonight was very good. I think he’s one of the best basketball players in our league and has been for the last couple of years.”
While Draughan’s gaudy offensive numbers stand out on any stat sheet, it’s the team’s defense that has catapulted Yale into title contention.
“I think our defense has picked up tremendously,” Jones said. “Guys are taking some pride about it. They want to get stops — it means something to them. They understand that if we play good, tough defense, we’ll have a chance to win every basketball game no matter what happens offensively. The last four, five basketball games, we’ve had a chance to win because we played good defense.”
There is still much work to be done for the Elis. Even with Saturday’s loss, Penn has a solid two-game lead on Yale, but the Quakers must go on the road to play Columbia and Cornell next weekend. The Elis play their fifth home game in a row on Tuesday night when they make up a game against Brown, postponed earlier in the year. As his squad prepares to win its fifth straight game, Jones said everyone knows that the Elis do not have their fate in their own hands.
“Penn’s a very good basketball team,” Jones said. “They have to lose two basketball games and we have to win the rest of ours to force something. Is that possible? It’s certainly possible. We’re going to go out and do what we can on our end of it. We put ourselves in the position [to need] some help, and that’s on us. All we can do is go out and win the games that are in front of us.”
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