Inconsistency seems to be a defining characteristic of Yale men’s basketball this season. The Bulldogs undeniably work hard, but they cannot always convert their efforts into consistent play at a high level.
“I think we’ve been up and down all season,” captain Josh Greenberg ’06 said. “Even within practices, there’s just different teams that show up day to day, week to week.”
Though the Bulldogs completed a weekend sweep against Ivy opponents Cornell and Columbia, the outcome of both games seemed unclear until the very end. The Elis’ inconsistency as a squad seems dependent on both energy and focus.
“We don’t play with enough energy.” Caleb Holmes ’08 said. “It starts off on the defensive end: We don’t pressure the ball enough. And if we don’t score, we get frustrated and don’t play as hard. That’s the main part — our energy.”
Both Columbia and Cornell rattled Yale with a zone defense intended to contain the Bulldogs in the paint — a smart decision considering the dominance the Elis have enjoyed so far because of their depth down low, and the fact that Sam Kaplan ’07 is out with an injury.
The most clear difference in the games against Columbia and Cornell was that Yale hit a tremendous number of outside shots against Columbia, especially at the beginning of the game. Against Cornell, the Bulldogs were forced to look elsewhere since they were not shooting as well, and waited until the second half to start really attacking the zone.
The lead changed six times and the score was tied six times during the matchup against Cornell. In the first half, the Elis visibly struggled to get into a rhythm.
“Offensively, the ball didn’t move very well, especially against the 2-3 zone,” Greenberg said.
Although the Bulldog bench has been playing well lately, usually outscoring their opponents’ reserves, Yale’s bench was outscored by Cornell’s on Saturday. In home games, the Elis have not entered a second half behind since playing Navy in December, when they began the second half down by four. On Saturday, Yale entered the second half down by five.
Still, Yale managed to keep its turnovers to a respectable 10 to Cornell’s 16. The game also picked up considerably in the second half. While Yale shot 41.1 percent from the field in the first half, in the second, they picked it up to 60 percent. Similarly, the Bulldogs’ three-point percentage rose from 20 to 50 percent.
“That was just a hard fought game. Both teams played hard the entire time,” Ross Morin ’09 said. “We made some adjustments at halftime, played a little more aggressively, and things opened up.”
Though Yale began the Cornell game slowly and rallied toward a strong finish, the Bulldogs came out with impressive intensity against Columbia, playing an exceptional first half but failing to maintain the level of play into the second.
The Elis scored the game’s first 14 points and built a comfortable 18-point lead to bring the score to 27-9. But with little over three minutes left to play in the half, the Lions had brought the score within two, to 31-29. At the break, the score was 39-31.
A very different Bulldog squad came out in the second half. The Elis’ field goal percentage dropped a little, from 57.7 percent in the first half to 50 percent in the second, and three-point shooting dropped from a fantastic 63.6 percent to a still decent 42.9 percent. The most telling statistic of all was the change in made free throws. While the Bulldogs shot an impressive 100 percent from the free throw line in the first half, they shot only 50 percent from the line in the second.
“Shooting isn’t something that you worry about per se, but when you see your free-throw percentage drop so much like that, it’s a telltale sign in terms of focus,” Greenberg said.
The Bulldogs’ outstanding early shooting against the Lions got them through the game. As a team, they went 10-for-18. This effort was led by Caleb Holmes, who went three for three, and Eric Flato ’08, who went four-for-eight from beyond the arc.
All this is not to say that there were no strong performances from individual players this weekend. Dominick Martin ’06 played well both nights, racking up two double-doubles. He scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Cornell and had 17 points — shooting 8-for-11 from the field — and 10 boards against Columbia. Flato also played very well in both games, scoring 17 against Cornell. Flato also led the Bulldogs’ impressive three-point shooting against Columbia, scoring 12 of his 14 points from behind the arc. Morin also stepped up, starting instead of Kaplan and contributing 15 against Cornell.
Another cause for the Elis’ inconsistency, especially this weekend, was the change in lineups. The absence of Kaplan, the Elis’ second-leading scorer, has surely hurt the squad.
“The different lineups we had this weekend had us playing with kind of a hole at the four. Some of our positioning was off,” Greenberg said.
It is disconcerting that Yale — which has won 15 of its last 16 home games — did not deliver a decisive win this weekend against either opponent. The Elis have recently scored key victories against other Ivy opponents at home, such as Brown and Harvard.
“We’ve definitely been inconsistent from weekend to weekend,” Greenberg said. “We played better at home than on the road, especially within the league.”
At times, it was doubtful that Yale would walk away with a win this weekend, especially against Cornell. The Elis were lucky that the Big Red shot a miserable 34.6 percent from the field in the second half and a dismal 44 percent overall for the game.
Though Greenberg said he thinks the youth of the Bulldog squad contributed to the team’s inconsistency, it does not seem to be a particularly valid reason.
“Being young is just an excuse,” Morin said. “Bottom line, we’ve all played a lot, so being young is no longer a valid excuse for inconsistency. I wouldn’t blame it on that.”
The Bulldogs seem to be well aware of the flaw, and are trying to fix it.
“We’re working hard in practice, and hopefully it pays off in the next few weeks,” Morin said.