Little more than a minute into the Bulldogs’ first Ivy contest of the season, swingman Casey Hughes ’07 stole the ball, dribbled down the court and almost gleefully finished the play with an assertive dunk. That score, the first score of the game, set both the pace and the tone for the rest of the Bulldogs’ 75-61 decision against the Brown Bears.
The Bulldogs’ return to John J. Lee Amphitheater after concluding a six-game road trip was the first time the Bulldogs had been at home in almost a month.
“It’s great to be home,” Yale head coach James Jones said.
Earlier this season, the Bulldogs won their home opener in a tight game against Sacred Heart, but followed that up with two consecutive losses. Having just concluded a tough non-conference schedule that included such competition as the impressive Kansas Jayhawks, the Elis enter Ivy competition with confidence and a better record than they had at this point last season.
“Having that confidence going into the season really matters.” center Dominick Martin ’06 said.
In the 2004-05 season, the Bulldogs went 4-9 against non-conference competition. In contrast, this year’s team finished with an 8-7 record against non-Ivy opponents, and boasts a 9-7 overall record after Saturday’s win.
Fresh off last Monday’s victory against American University in Washington, D.C., the Elis entered this year’s first conference competition with a different attitude than in years past.
“We went into the game with a chip on our shoulder.” Eric Flato ’08 said.
Saturday’s victory was the first time the Elis had beaten Brown in four years, and the first time in four years that they had won their conference opener. In the past, Yale has been dominated by the Bears.
Though captain Josh Greenberg ’06 said he wondered if the Elis’ victory was in part assisted by Brown’s loss of personnel — most notably 2005 unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection Jason Forte. Nonetheless, this time around, the game played out quite differently.
At times, the Bulldogs seemed to be playing with marked ease. Leading the entire time, Yale built its advantage up to as much as 29 points with 5:26 left to play. The Elis fully exploited the space in Brown’s soft 2-3 zone by moving the ball around the court quickly and accurately. They also capitalized on the inherent difficulty of locating offensive players within a zone. Led by Martin, the Elis dominated Brown in the paint.
Martin’s presence will continue to alleviate pressure on other Bulldogs.
“We get it in to him, and it opens up a lot of opportunities for other players on the perimeter,” Flato said.
The Bulldogs had spent considerable time preparing specifically for Brown’s offense, and it showed in the Bears’ struggles. Defense will continue to be a crucial factor in the Bulldogs’ continued success.
“We have so many offensive players, we’re going to be able to score.” Flato said. “It really depends on how we play defense.”
Yale’s depth and the quality of minutes contributed by players off the bench will also continue to be important factors in Yale’s success. Changes in Ivy League personnel have evened the level of competition in the conference. If Yale can capitalize on teams struggling to rebuild, this may very well turn out to be a highly successful year.
“There’s not a lot of disparity in talent among the teams,” Greenberg said.
Yale now is 9-7 overall and 1-0 in Ivy competition. Moving forward, the Bulldogs are focused on taking conference competition on a day-by-day basis.
“We’re going to take each game step by step,” Martin said. “You can’t look behind or ahead of anybody.”