The men’s basketball team continued to plummet down the Ancient Eight standings this weekend, beginning with an 82-66 thumping by Harvard and ending with a 53-52 heartbreaker at Dartmouth.
Only a week ago, the Elis had won their fourth straight game, a convincing 78-60 victory over the University of Pennsylvania at John J. Lee Amphitheater. They had climbed from eighth place in the Ancient Eight to second in two weeks, and posed the only serious threat to Penn’s third title run in four years. A week later, on Saturday night in Hanover, N.H., the Elis (9-15, 5-6 Ivy) dropped their third straight game on a buzzer beater at Dartmouth (10-15, 7-5). Combined with the Eli losses, two Penn victories secured the Quakers the Ivy title and an NCAA tournament berth.
“It’s tough, the irony of life at times,” forward Dexter Upshaw ’06 said. “It seems like you reach your highest moment, and your lowest follows. Dartmouth was probably our lowest moment of the season in terms of our play. Sometimes it’s hard to keep momentum. Sometimes it’s just a tough game to play. It’s even a tougher game to win on a consistent basis.”
It was senior night in Hanover, when the Big Green veterans played their last game at Leede Arena. They made it count, right down to the final seconds. The Bulldogs clawed their way back into the game in the second half, overcoming a 33-19 halftime deficit to take the lead with 20 seconds left, 52-51.
The Big Green brought the ball up the court, and guard Michael McClaren missed a jumper under pressure from forward Casey Hughes ’07. Eli forward Caleb Holmes ’08 and center Dominick Martin ’06 both came down with the ball, but Holmes was whistled for travelling, giving Dartmouth one last chance with 3.4 seconds remaining.
Big Green senior guard Michael Liddy made the inbound pass to senior guard Steve Callahan in the corner. Holmes and guard Alex Gamboa ’05 appeared to have Callahan trapped on the baseline as the final seconds ticked off, but Callahan broke through the defenders toward the hoop and made an off-balance underhand scoop shot off the glass as the buzzer sounded. The Elis stood stunned as the Dartmouth fans rushed the court.
“I don’t know if there was a mix up on our part, but [McClaren] threw up a leaning, running underhand prayer that went in,” Gamboa said.
A night earlier, the Elis were down only six at the half against the Cantabs, 32-26. But Harvard opened up the second half with an 18-8 run and center Brian Cusworth scored 15 of his career-high 21 points after the break to lead the Crimson to an easy win. Harvard shot over 60 percent from the field in the second half and outrebounded the Elis 39-29 for the game.
Three Elis scored 14 points against the Crimson — Holmes, guard Edwin Draughan ’05 and forward Casey Hughes ’07. Gamboa was the fourth Eli to break double figures in scoring with 10 points. Offense was never a problem for the Elis, but on the defensive end they could not answer Cusworth in the post.
Martin said that Cusworth got a lot of open looks in the second half. The Yale post defenders had to rotate over when the Crimson guards penetrated into the paint and no one moved over to cover Cusworth.
“He hit tough shots, there was a lack of weak-side help, and then we started fouling in the end,” Martin said. “That all combined for his 21 points.”
Harvard forward Matt Stehle added 15 points and nine rebounds while guard Kevin Rogus scored 13 points.
Against Dartmouth, the Elis struggled on both ends of the floor, particularly in the first half. No Eli scored more than four points in the first half while the Big Green shot 52 percent from the field before halftime, including 6-for-10 shooting from behind the arc. McClaren was a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in the first half.
The Elis had only three assists in the first half versus nine turnovers. The Big Green, in contrast, had eight assists and six turnovers.
“As a team, we’re best when we get assists on shot attempts,” Upshaw said. “Our assists to shots made [ratio] was very low. We simply had to do a better job of moving the ball around. When you get down in a game, guys feel a responsibility to help the team on their own. It’s easy when you’re down to do things differently to score.”
But the Eli defense clamped down in the second half. McClaren went 0-for-9 after halftime and the entire Big Green squad did not make a single three-pointer after the break.
The Bulldogs offense finally showed some life, led by center Martin’s nine points after halftime. The Elis shot nearly 60 percent from the field in the second period, but only 5-for-12 from the free throw line, which proved to be their undoing.
Draughan’s layup with 4:28 remaining brought the Elis within one and his jumper two minutes later tied the game at 51. But the Bulldogs only made one of four free-throws in the final four minutes, leaving them vulnerable to Dartmouth’s last-second heroics.
Gamboa said he lacks the words to describe the weekend’s disappointment. It will only get stranger for him and the other Eli senior, Draughan, as they approach their final weekend at home.
“It’s a weird feeling right now,” Gamboa said. “It just doesn’t seem like [next weekend] is going to be it for whatever reason. I know it’s the last chance I’ll get to play in the amphitheater. It’s going to be a weird experience. I definitely have some trepidation in thinking about what is coming up.”