About 50 minutes after the first whistle blew, a sea of red-clad fans began rustling for their jackets and filed slowly out of Alumni Hall in Fairfield, Conn.
On Tuesday night, 2,479 dejected home fans left the men’s basketball game disappointed after Fairfield (3-6) fell to Yale (2-5) in a nailbiter that went into overtime on the Fairfield campus. The Elis fought back from an early deficit to topple the Stags, 70-66, in front of a capacity crowd.
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The game gave the Bulldogs their first taste of victory in almost a month.
“It’s always good to win a game,” head coach James Jones said. “But more importantly, we’re trying to build a team and get better and win a championship in our league.”
The Elis were challenged early on when Fairfield sped to a 9-2 lead off a pair of three-pointers and a three-point play. The tough Stag defense made it difficult for Bulldog shooters to get the ball up, making transition points matter for the visitors.
Yale’s starters also ran into foul trouble early, with captain and guard Eric Flato ’08 riding the bench for half of the first period. But 18 points off the bench — 10 of them from guard Alex Zampier ’10 — kept the Elis fighting back until a layup by forward Garrett Fiddler ’11 pulled the Bulldogs into the lead, 25-24.
Jones said the pair of fouls apiece from Flato, forward Nick Holmes ’08 and forward Ross Morin ’09 in the first half was not a significant setback.
“It gave me an opportunity to look at some other guys,” he said. “It gives those other guys confidence. I wasn’t in a panic.”
The Elis’ dominant bench performance made up for Nick Holmes’ failure to score, and Yale held a lead going into halftime, 31-26.
The Stags came out swinging again after the break and went on a 16-point run, allowing just two Bulldog baskets to take a seven-point lead. Fairfield’s Greg Nero notched 13 points in the period en route to a game-high 21.
But the Elis stayed in the game, quietly racking up points before a three-point play from guard Caleb Holmes ’08 that put Yale within striking distance silenced the huge crowd. But the real action began with 39 seconds left on the clock.
Flato took a shot from just inside the arc to bring the Elis within one point, with the scoreboard reading 58-57 in favor of the Stags. Fairfield’s Warren Edney then sank his 14th and 15th points off of free throws to increase the Stags’ lead to three.
Caleb Holmes, who posted 11 points in the game, sank a three-pointer with 15 seconds left on the clock to knot the score at 60. Nero missed a jumper on the Stags’ end of the court, and Caleb Holmes snagged the board to leave the score tied at the end of regulation.
“It’s nice playing with this team,” Morin, the team’s high-scorer with 16 points, said. “The twins and Flato all shoot and get the ball inside when they can. Everything just came [together].”
The cinched contest entered a five-minute overtime that Yale dominated. The Elis outscored the Stags, 10-6, and controlled the short period, sealing the deal on four Flato free throws.
“I had a couple of free throws before that which got me in a rhythm,” Flato said. “For the last 15 minutes we played pretty solid — that’s what got us the win.”
The visitors managed a respectable 49.1 field-goal percentage and stole the ball seven times. Morin’s team-leading night was marred only by his persistently bleeding nose. The problem is not serious, but a blow to his face in the first half was the second in two games. Jones chalked the bruise up to Morin’s aggressiveness.
“[My nose is] always in the way,” Morin said after the match.
The match at Fairfield may help pull the Elis out of the five-game slump they rode through the Wagner (1-6) game on Dec. 1. The Elis head into their winter lineup on Saturday against Vermont (4-5) at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.