It’s been a bumpy ride for the men’s basketball team. With this weekend’s split, the squad found another pothole on the road.
The Elis (10-12, 4-4 Ivy) got the trip off to a good start with a resounding 67-56 victory at Princeton (5-17, 2-5) on Friday night. But the historic halls of the Palestra had a 78-65 defeat in store for the inconsistent Bulldogs.
With Cornell (16-5, 8-0) tearing through the league, Yale has been virtually eliminated from championship contention, and the Elis are now forced to set their sights lower while still holding onto slim championship odds.
“It’s the Ivy League,” captain and guard Eric Flato ’08 said. “You have to go each weekend at a time. We’re just trying to stay positive, that’s the only thing you can do.”
The Bulldogs took control of the match against Penn (9-15, 4-3) early on but were unable to hold on to their slight lead as the game wore on. The squad set the pace from the start, enduring a number of foul calls and the heckling home crowd to lead by as much as eight.
Penn’s defense forced Yale to shoot from the outside, but five shots from beyond the arc — three from sure-shooting Flato — boosted the Bulldogs. The match played out fairly evenly, with the Elis holding onto a tight lead. The visitors’ chemistry helped them overcome the Quakers’ energy.
About midway through the first half, center Paul Nelson ’10 grabbed a defensive rebound by barely keeping the ball in bounds, slinging it up to guard Porter Braswell ’11, who passed to forward Travis Pinick ’09. Pinick aggressively drove through the Penn defense and dunked to put the Elis ahead by six.
But the Bulldogs’ success was unsure.
“Tonight we were in control of the game for about 30 minutes,” Yale head coach James Jones said after the game. “We lost control in the second half. It goes back to doing the things that make you a good basketball team; offensively we stopped doing that, and that’s what hurt us.”
The second half saw 16 fouls called on the Elis and eight missed free throws in what was a dramatic turnaround for the Quakers.
The home team found the rhythm it had lacked in the opening stanza and ran away with the lead after a pair of free throws by the game’s leading scorer, guard Tyler Bernardini, midway through the period.
The Bulldogs began the half by scoring just nine points, until a Ross Morin ’09 layup at 8:52. The visibly frustrated Elis found their offense unraveling and the home team taking full advantage in a game the Quakers could not lose.
Penn eventually rode a wave of success to top the Bulldogs by 13 points and serve the Elis their fourth conference loss. Penn’s transition points and 20 free throws in the second half helped the Quakers stretch the lead beyond reach.
“They got to the line pretty easily,” Morin said. “Our shots weren’t falling, and that gave them a lot of fast breaks and transition points.”
The Elis, with the momentum of a road victory at Princeton under their belts, failed to capitalize on a hard-fought win the night before by winning their fourth straight game.
At Princeton, the second half defined the game for the men in blue. With 11:26 to play in the match, the Bulldogs trailed by seven, but a pair of free throws from forward Nick Holmes ’08 triggered a 30-point run that won the game for the Elis.
En route to a double-double, with 11 points and 11 rebounds, Pinick snatched an impressive seven boards in the last 11 minutes of the second half. Nick Holmes racked up 16 of his season-high 18 points, bookended by two pairs of free throws, one to begin the 30-point run and one to end the game, 56-67.
Penn’s and Princeton’s drastically different styles of play threw a curveball at the Elis this weekend — whereas Princeton’s offense relies on plodding patience, Penn tried to get easy baskets by moving up and down the court quickly.
Yale will face Cornell and Columbia next week as it attempts to pull out of fifth place in the Ancient Eight.
The Elis could disrupt Cornell’s drive to the league title if they can avenge a sweep at the hands of the Big Red and Columbia just three weekends ago in New Haven.
“We can’t really control anything but how we play,” Morin said. “We’ve got a big weekend coming up on the road, and we’re trying to take care of what we can and not worry about anything else.”