Allow me to paint a sad, sad picture for all of you.
There are 48 seconds left to play in the first half of the men’s basketball game against Penn last Saturday, Yale has the momentum and a six-point lead, but a bad foul on the perimeter has put sophomore Quaker Kevin Egee on the line to shoot three free throws.
Two bounces. First shot is up … and way short.
Two more bounces. Second shot is up … and touches nothing.
Final two bounces. Third shot is up … clanks against the back of the rim, and is safely hauled in by Travis Pinick. Eric Flato hits a trey on the other end, and Yale never looks back en route to a 77-68 win over the Ivy League’s purported best.
The bottom line is that the Bulldogs won both games this weekend. Princeton was held to a pathetic 26.7 percent from the field on Friday, and Penn was out-rebounded for the first time this winter in Ivy play. This was the best weekend of Yale basketball I have seen in four years.
And I’m not satisfied. Not until this team proves it can come up big on the road.
The problem is, I’m greedy. We won The Game, so I can graduate a happy man. But I want more from this men’s basketball team.
Yes, we won against the Killer P’s, one of whom has won the league every year since dinosaurs roamed the earth, I get it. But the above story is proof of who really gets the credit for this weekend: us.
The entire Yale crowd earns the sixth-man award this weekend. We chastised Ibby Jaaber, Penn’s floor general, for his lame tattoo and skimpy mustache. Princeton’s Kyle Kontz, a gawky bald forward, heard “air ball” early and often. And despite the support of a little boy on the Penn side holding up a sign that read, “I holler for Zoller,” the standout Penn forward probably paid more heed to the cheers of “You suck!” coming from the Yale side.
We even got on the cheerleaders. Favorite jeer of the weekend: “Cheerleaders don’t wear glasses!” directed at a Penn cheerleader who really could have been 12. Which is really awkward when you’ve been reading Lolita for English class.
How does a college basketball player miss three consecutive free throws? Keep in mind that free throws are the most fundamental aspect of basketball, so this feat is effectively tantamount to you failing repeatedly to tie your shoelaces. Simple: We were in his head.
The basketball team did play well, but with the crowd behind them all the way. The extra inch of elevation before shooting from downtown, taking it up a notch on defense for yet another steal — that’s fueled by the mass in the stands, everyone on their feet and making noise.
The Elis’ strength has never been clean execution. I can’t remember how many times Flato had to scream to try to get his guys in place this weekend for a play, leading to a game of ring-around-the-arc, after which hopefully someone makes a contested three-pointer. They don’t get the ball inside often enough. And Coach Jones doesn’t help with his incomprehensible substitutions.
I have my issues with how we run our offense. But that’s not the point of this column. We’re well into the Ivy season, and no team should be expected to change its game plan, especially when it’s sitting on a 5-1 conference record. And the Bulldogs have other strengths.
What the Elis manage to do better than most teams is get energized. Once the Bulldogs pick up on the pulse of the crowd, it’s only a matter of time before we’re on our feet for another Casey Hughes one-handed throw down. Unfortunately, teams that feed off energy well inevitably have a harder time on the road.
The point is this: When the basketball team takes its show on the road this weekend for the Columbia-Cornell trip, it had better not be thinking about fundamentals or execution. It should be thinking about energy.
The fact of the matter is, this team is not made to play stoic basketball. This team is built for Eric Flato to get momentum-changing steals, for Casey Hughes to get airborne for demoralizing dunks, for the Holmes brothers to get on a roll from outside, and for Matt Kyle to find reason to throw his arms down, fists clenched, and yell at the crowd (my award for best sideline performance of any athlete I’ve ever seen).
Easier said than done, I know. But two factors make it a little easier. First, there are plenty of reasons to get riled up in someone else’s house. If too few fans are in the stands, remember what it’s like to be on a team students actually care about. If enough fans are in the stands, think how much fun it will be to send them home with heads bowed. Mock their cheerleaders; sneak in an extra half-second of hang time on the rim; talk about how it takes four Cornell kids to screw in a light bulb — one to actually do it, and three more to crack from the pressure. And Columbia offers the ever-fun opportunity to beat up on Coach Jones’ brother. Make James the Peyton at the next Jones family Thanksgiving.
Second, while there may be two road trips to go, this will likely be the only one that matters. Win twice this weekend, and it’s back in New Haven for what should be two weeks of much easier contests. If the Bulldogs get that far and sit at 11-1 in the Ivy League, I’d hope at least 100 students will make the trip to Princeton and Penn in March. That trip is the only reason I’m bringing my car up to school, and nothing short of The Game would give me as much pleasure as seeing a Yale win at the Palestra.
In other words: Boys, ride a mean streak through February. We’ll take care of Mark Zoller from there.
Dan Adler is a senior in Pierson and a former Sports Editor for the News. His column usually appears on Thursdays.