With team leaders confined to the bench and the toughest loss of the season fresh in their minds, the Bulldogs proved they still had the weapons to contend for the conference title with only two weeks to go this season.
Though all three seniors were sitting out with injuries for most of the weekend, the relentless men’s basketball team managed to forget last weekend’s hiccup against Cornell and resume its winning ways, receiving strong performances from a number of players. Each time Yale needed a boost, it seemed that a different Eli would step up to answer the call of duty and the team’s collective effort paid off in a big way — back-to-back home wins over league rivals Dartmouth and Harvard, 69-64 and 86-71, respectively. Yale’s weekend sweep combined with Cornell’s Saturday loss to Penn puts the Bulldogs in sole possession of second place with four games left to play in the Ivy League season.
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But team members said they were hesitant to discuss their best Ancient Eight start since 2001-’02 and the possibility of repeating the championship success of that season.
“We talk about [Yale’s next opponent] Cornell,” head coach James Jones said. “We’re not talking about the Ivy championship just yet. Cornell is a very good team, and we need to play well to beat them.”
Yale’s recent championship-caliber play speaks for itself. The Bulldogs have won nine of their last 11 games, including seven of their last eight, and are currently just a half-game behind Penn for the top spot in the league entering the final stretch of the season.
The Elis began the weekend with a lackluster first half against Dartmouth, but more than made up for it their second half play, overcoming a 10-point deficit to sweep the season series with the Big Green. Dartmouth shot almost 60 percent in the first half before the Bulldogs picked up the defensive intensity after the break, limiting the Big Green to under 35 percent for the final 20 minutes. Forward Ross Morin ’09, who saw only limited action in the first half due to early foul trouble, scored all 15 of his points in the second to lead the Eli comeback.
Yale would carry its second-half momentum right into tipoff the following night. The boisterous sellout crowd, the palpable excitement and the unmatched on-court intensity proved once again to all in attendance at Lee Amphitheater that Harvard-Yale is Harvard-Yale.
The Bulldogs came roaring out of the locker room to score the game’s first nine points, but the Crimson refused to be embarrassed by their archrivals just yet. Harvard clawed its way back, outrebounding the Elis 20-8 in the first half, including 11-2 on the offensive glass. Sharp shooting by the Bulldogs kept them out in front for most of the half, as the team connected on an impressive 59.3 percent of its shot attempts, including 5-of-8 from behind the arc. Yale finished the half leading 38-36.
The 2006 Ivy League champion football team was recognized during halftime and seemed to remind both the crowd and the team just what was at stake: a chance at an Ancient Eight title.
Center Matt Kyle ’08 began the second half with an emphatic dunk on a great no-look pass inside from Morin, and the Bulldogs were able to steadily build their lead from there. In the absence of senior leaders — captain Sam Kaplan ’07, Jason Abromaitis ’07 and Casey Hughes ’07 — the rest of the Bulldogs took it upon themselves to extend their home win streak over Harvard to nine games. Morin followed up his solid second-half performance against Dartmouth with a career night against the Crimson, posting 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting, while collecting six rebounds and dishing out three assists.
“I was aggressive when I got the ball,” Morin said. “I give credit to the guards for penetrating and getting the ball inside.”
Forward Travis Pinick ’09 complemented the play of his fellow sophomore with a standout game of his own, posting 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists in just 20 minutes of play. Pinick’s active style of play provided a intangible spark for the Bulldogs and says a lot more than his already impressive stat sheet.
“I just try to bring energy to the table,” Pinick said. “Crash the glass, try to get the crowd into it. Anything I can do to help the team.”
As the clock wound down and a Yale manhandling of Harvard became certain, the rambunctious crowd reminisced about another fulfilling victory, erupting into a chant of “just like football.” It is not quite the same, but the team’s dismantling of Harvard and its current position near the top of the league does leave open at least the possibility that Eli fans will be able to enjoy similar success this season.