What goes up must come down.
After winning five games in a row, the men’s basketball team (7-11, 2-2 Ivy) returned to Earth this weekend with a pair of losses that marked their worst scoring performances of the season. The offensive ineptitude began with a 53-42 defeat on Friday at Columbia (7-11, 2-2) and continued with a 64-36 loss at Cornell (14-6, 4-0) on Saturday. The Elis scored only 15 points in the second half against the Lions and followed that total in the first half against Cornell with a paltry 13.
Going into the weekend, the Bulldogs were coming off a home-and-away sweep of Brown to begin the Ancient Eight slate and were tied for first in the Ivy League with a 2-0 record. With another three victories prior to that, the Elis finally seemed to be settling into a groove and breaking out of the 2-9 start to the season.
The Bulldogs seemed to carry every bit of that momentum and swagger from the five-game winning streak into the first half against Columbia, shooting a stellar 48 percent in the first half on their way to outscoring the Lions 27-18.
The Eli team that came out of the locker room for the second half was unrecognizable, though, compared to the Bulldogs’ previous play. Columbia quickly erased the Bulldogs’ nine-point lead with a 10-2 run over the first five minutes of the second half. At the 5:30 mark, the score was tied, 39-39.
At that point, the Bulldogs suffered nothing short of a meltdown, going scoreless for nearly five full minutes. The next Eli point would come from guard Raffi Mantilla ’11 on a free throw with 39 seconds left in the game. During that time, the Lions built a comfortable 8-point cushion, putting the game out of reach for the visitors.
The Elis’ difficulties could be summed up simply by the old basketball adage: The name of the game is to put the ball through the hole. The Bulldogs went ice cold during the second half to the tune of six for 26 from the field and 23.1 percent shooting, and even shot a poor 50 percent from the free throw line to add insult to injury.
Players attributed the shooting struggles in part to a change to zone defense made by the Lions during the second half that eliminated clean looks at the basket and stalled ball movement on offense.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well or get good movement on offense,” guard Chris Andrews ’09 said. “We were getting shots at the end of the shot clock every possession.”
Three-point shooting, which has not been a strength for Yale this season, completely deserted the team as the Elis were one for 12 on the game. Compounding the poor shooting were the 20 Bulldog turnovers for the game, far above their season average of 16.7 turnovers per game.
With the bad taste of the Columbia loss still fresh, the Elis headed upstate for a showdown with the leader of the Ivy League and defending champion, Cornell. The Big Red had easily defeated Brown 90-58 the night before and promised to bring an even tougher challenge to the Bulldogs.
The Elis stayed close with Cornell for the first six and a half minutes with forward Travis Pinick ’09 nailing a lay-up and free throw to narrow the gap to 7-5. From that point, though, the game sequence resembled a flashback of the last five minutes of the Columbia game. The Bulldogs’ shooting strokes again deserted them as Cornell went on a 27-8 run to end the half with a score of 34-13 Big Red.
The 13 points scored for the half was a season low for the Bulldogs, and could have been even worse if not for five for six free throw shooting in the half to counter the 17.4 percent field goal shooting.
“They played a defense geared to combat our strengths on offense and did a good job keeping us from getting to the basket,” center Garrett Fiddler ’11 said. “We didn’t have anyone shooting very well, but they also didn’t give us easy shots around the basket.”
The silver lining to both games had to be the Elis’ defense, which countered a poor offensive effort against Columbia into a close game that the Bulldogs nearly won. The 53 points allowed was the third-lowest total for an opponent on the season. Even against Cornell, the Eli defense was solid, limiting the Big Red to 64 points, 10 below their season average of 74.3 points per game.
“Our defense was fine,” guard Porter Braswell ’11 said. “We held Columbia to 53 points and Cornell to 64 points.”
Looking ahead, several players said the team knows it has work to do if it expects to jump back into the Ivy League hunt. With the only conference wins against last place and winless Brown, the Bulldogs still have plenty to prove.
“Other than Cornell, everyone is pretty much the same in the Ivy League,” Braswell said. “The race is still on and it is anyone’s game.”