Officially, there is no heckling allowed in the Ivy League. But on Friday night, a taste of the shenanigans usually associated with such basketball powerhouses as Duke — home to the famous Cameron Crazies — was served up in Yale’s own John J. Lee Amphitheater as the Elis took on archrival Harvard.
“It was definitely fun.” Chris Andrews ’09 said. “One of the reasons I play basketball is to experience a rivalry like this. Both sides are just competing at a very high level. Every game should be like that.”
Prominently seated in the second row of the student section, members of the men’s soccer team chanted, jeered and whistled, donning full baseball uniforms, neon sweatbands and bandannas, sunglasses and face paint. Fans remained largely on their feet for the entire game. The Yale Precision Marching Band, too, was in rare form.
Harvard was visibly rattled by the Yale fans. When starting center Brian Cusworth fouled out, a gleeful crowd of 2,336 ordered, “left, right, left, right” until he reached the bench, where he was commanded, and inevitably obeyed, to “SIT DOWN!” Chants of “Safety School!” and “It’s all over!” filled the gym as the clock ran out. And when Harvard’s Drew Housman airballed his first shot, the crowd would not let him forget it. Taunts such as “air-ball, air-ball” haunted him for the rest of the game, and the Bulldogs held him to a paltry 2-for-10 from the field.
But Friday’s win over Harvard was executed with anything but ease. The lead changed seven times, and the teams were tied once. Yale had 19 turnovers and was out-rebounded by Harvard, 40-34.
Though the second half began very well, with a 16-5 Yale run, the general level of play deteriorated at the end of the game. In the last four minutes alone, the Elis committed five fouls and four turnovers. But despite sloppiness at the end, the Bulldogs pulled out a win after 40 minutes.
“We won all of our league games last year at home, we’ve won three out of seven so far at home, so it really does make a difference,” swingman Caleb Holmes ’08 said. “That’s something we need to work on — bringing the energy when we’re away from here.”
Home-court advantage has taken on new meaning for the Bulldogs lately. Yale has won 13 of its last 16 home games, and is now 6-1 at home, whereas the Elis are 2-6 on the road and 3-1 on neutral territory. Captain Josh Greenberg ’06 said having a vocal, supportive crowd was important in securing victory for the Bulldogs, especially against league competition.
“I think [a supportive crowd is] very important,” Greenberg said. “If you look at our record last year, we were 6-1 at home, and 1-6, on the road, in league. We’re playing all the same teams, and it makes a pretty big difference.”
Home-court advantage, then, seems important to the Bulldogs’ success. Although this yields exhilarating home games, it makes for weaker performances when the Elis are on the road, away from throngs of enthusiastic fans.
Yale’s back-to-back contests against Brown are a perfect case in point. At home in front of a crowd of 2,045, the Bulldogs beat Brown with apparent ease, leading by 30 at one point in the game. But at Brown, in front of a crowd of 1,749, the Elis struggled, trailing by as many as 18 points. They eventually lost, 67-62, snapping their two-game winning streak.
As the season continues, Yale will try to build on its success at home and bring the same focus and energy to away games as it does to home games.
“If we want to be good this year, we’re going to have to play with the same intensity home and away,” Greenberg said. “We’re still very much a work in progress.”
After Friday’s game, Harvard and Yale remain tied for second place in the Ivy League. Next weekend, the Bulldogs will have a chance to challenge Penn, the top team in the league and defending conference champions. But the Bulldogs will have to face the Quakers in the storied Palestra before they can take a shot at them at home. The Elis are optimistic about their chances and their potential for improvement as an away team.
“Especially after playing at Brown, we know what it takes to win on the road,” Andrews said.