Heading into the weekend, the men’s basketball team had come off two second-half come-from-behind victories to remain in the Ivy League title conversation. The Bulldogs tried to accomplish the feat twice again this weekend but weren’t as successful.
On Friday, the Elis (12-14, 7-5 Ivy) overcame a one-point halftime deficit to avenge their previous loss against Penn (9-16, 5-6) with an 87-79 win at the historic Palestra. But on Saturday, the Bulldogs spotted Princeton (12-12, 7-4) 14 points to begin the contest and did not take a lead in a backbreaking 62-54 loss in New Jersey.
The loss was especially devastating due to Cornell’s (19-9, 9-3) loss at Harvard (13-13, 5-7). A Yale win would have put the Bulldogs just a game behind the Big Red with two games remaining. Instead, Yale will need to sweep the final weekend of the regular season and hope Cornell — currently sporting an unblemished 11-0 home record — gets swept at home next weekend.
“We’ve lost five conference games this season,” Porter Braswell ’11 said. “What it comes down to is that we didn’t take care of business when we had the opportunity.”
OFF TO A GOOD START
On Friday night both teams came out firing on all cylinders. The Quakers, who went to New Haven and beat Yale just 13 days earlier, shot 60.9 percent from the floor in the first half but were only up one at intermission.
The Bulldogs held their own despite shooting just 41.7 percent from the line by shooting 48.3 percent in the first 20 minutes and committing just four turnovers.
Penn continued its hot shooting in the second half but the Bulldogs came out even better — and it was too much for Penn to handle.
The Elis shot 62.1 percent from field and turned the ball over just two times after halftime, outscoring the Quakers 51-42 in the second frame on the way to the 87-79 victory.
“We were switching too much in the first half,” captain and forward Ross Morin ’09 said. “In the second half, we did a better job of fighting through the screens.”
The 87 points tied Yale’s most in a game this season. The Bulldogs dropped 87 on the road against Harvard on Feb. 6.
The Quakers opened the contest on a 15-6 run and held a 28-15 lead with 9:03 remaining in the first half when the Bulldogs slowly began chipping away at the lead. Down 34-25 with four minutes on the clock, the Elis finished the half on an 11-3 run to pull within one, 37-36, at the half.
Yale took its first lead of the game 58 seconds into the second half after a Travis Pinick ’09 layup made it 40-39.
The Quakers briefly took the lead back with 16:27 remaining following a Tyler Bernardini free throw to complete a three-point play, but less than three minutes later an Alex Zampier ’10 bucket gave Yale a 49-48 lead it would not relinquish.
The lead ballooned to as much as 11 on a few occasions and as late as 6:02.
The Elis had a season-high five players in double figures, led by Morin’s 20 points and eight rebounds. Zampier poured in 19 points and Pinick converted six of his eight attempts, finishing with 15 points.
That production is expected from the team’s three leading scorers, but surprising contributions came off the bench. Both forward Jordan Gibson ’10 and center Paul Nelson ’10 shot five of seven from the field and rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Elis. Gibson finished with 11, while Nelson scored 10.
The Quakers had four players in double figures led by Harrison Gaines’ 24 off the bench. Bernardini, the team’s leading scorer for the season, dropped in 15. Fellow starters Cameron Lewis and Kevin Egee scored 12 and 11, respectively.
For the game, the Elis exploited their size, out-rebounding the Quakers 36-29 and scoring 40 points in the paint. The Bulldogs also dished off 20 assists and committed just six turnovers. The turnover total is the team’s lowest this season.
“Our game plan is always to go inside,” head coach James Jones said. “We have a lot of big bodies. Our guards did a great job of getting them the ball in good spots.”
A SQUANDERED OPPORTUNITY
Halfway toward a huge road weekend sweep to stay in conference championship contention, things were looking up for the Bulldogs as they headed down to Princeton, N.J. But 4:54 into the game Saturday night, the Bulldogs found themselves down 14-0 and watching their chances of an Ivy League championship slipping away.
The Elis missed their first four shots and committed five turnovers before Zampier knocked down a three to make it 14-3 with 13:57 on the clock.
“The first five minutes of the game were crucial,” Jones said. “We didn’t do a good job of executing our offense.”
The Zampier three began a 13-0 run for the Elis but the Tigers responded with another run, this time a 7-0 spurt, to keep the Elis at bay.
The Bulldogs made it a habit of falling behind early and coming back to win, but the 14-point lead on the road was too much to overcome against the second-place Tigers. Yale got it to within one, 35-34, five minutes into the second half but could never take a lead in the contest.
“The game against Penn really took a lot out of us,” Zampier said. “Not to make any excuses, but Penn is a very physical team and everyone was really tired. We just didn’t come out ready to play and they handed it to us.”
After out-rebounding the Quakers the night before, the Bulldogs lost the battle on the boards, 24-22, and committed twice as many turnovers (12).
Zampier led all scorers and finished with another 19-point night. Morin added 16 but those two were the only Bulldogs in double figures, a night after having five players score double digits. Princeton’s stellar team defense made it difficult to get much going. Heading into the weekend, the Tigers were ranked seventh in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 57.7 points per game.
Princeton’s 1-3-1 defense and slow-paced style on offense caused problems for a Bulldog team that likes to run.
“I wouldn’t say that we weren’t ready for the 1-3-1, but it surprised us,” Braswell said. “We had been focusing on seeing another type of defense and it kind of surprised us. The coaches told us to get ready for any defense but Princeton came out with a good strategy. They saw that we weren’t scoring and stayed in it all game.”
Two double-figure scorers led Princeton. Guard Dan Mavraides finished with 16 points and freshman Doug Davis scored 12 points off the bench. All 10 players who saw playing time for the hosts scored.
The outcome all but eliminates Yale from the Ancient Eight championship picture, but keeps Princeton in the race. Just a game behind Cornell, the Tigers head to the Empire State next weekend to battle Columbia (11-15, 6-6) and Cornell on Friday.
A win over the Big Red, along with wins in their two other remaining games, would put Princeton and Cornell in a tie atop the Ivy League standings. If that were the case, a one-game playoff would decide who would earn the Ancient Eight’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Yale heads back to the John J. Lee Amphitheater next weekend to host Dartmouth (9-17, 7-5) and Harvard to conclude the season. Saturday night’s contest against Harvard will be senior night for five Bulldogs.