While most of the Yale student body was home for the holidays, the Bulldogs (6–11) were in the midst of a five-game road trip — and a five game losing streak. But with a return to New Haven on Thursday came a return to the win column. The Elis now head into their Ivy League opener Friday on a two-game winning streak, having earned convincing victories over Albertus Magnus and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Led by a career-high 17 points from guard Austin Morgan ’11, the Bulldogs used a well-balanced scoring attack to take the easy 92–71 decision from Albertus Magnus on Thursday. Five different Elis scored in double figures, even though Yale received no scoring from the usually productive duo of guard and captain Alex Zampier ’10 and foward Jordan Gibson’10, both of whom were not in action. Forwards Mike Sands ’11 and Reggie Willhite ’12 each scored in the double digits, as did center Paul Nelson ’10, who added seven rebounds and four blocks to his 11 points.
Forward Greg Mangano ’12 — who earned his first double-double in Yale’s 75–69 loss to Lehigh on Jan. 5 — followed up that strong performance with another on Thursday, contributing seven points and 12 rebounds. Fellow youngster, guard Sam Martin’ 13, scored his first career point in the game, finishing with four on the day.
The Elis’ final tune-up before conference play came Saturday against NJIT. With Zampier and Gibson back in action, the Bulldogs cruised to another convincing win, taking down the Highlanders (5–11), 79–48.
Zampier led the scoring with 15 points, and guard Porter Braswell ’11 added 14, including a four-for-five effort from behind the arc.
But the story of the day was defense, as the Elis held the Highlanders to just 18.7 percent shooting and just five buckets in the second half. That effort, combined with the Bulldogs’ stingy play against Albertus Magnus, sends Yale to Brown having held its last two opponents to a combined 31.7 percent shooting from the field.
“We have to keep playing with high energy and making sure that we are rotating on defense and communicating with one another,” Braswell said. “We have placed a large emphasis on getting better at defense in our past few practices, and we are slowly starting to see positive results.”
The Elis had begun their winter road trip on Dec. 21 in an 87–78 loss at Providence. Yale then trekked to Colorado for dates with the University of Colorado’s Buffaloes and Colorado State’s Rams. The Big 12’s Buffaloes (9–6) took a 70–59 game from the Elis, and the Rams (13–5) sent Yale back to the East Coast and into 2010 with a 93–71 loss.
The Bulldogs’ first game of the new year was a 89–68 loss to the University of Albany (5–11) on Jan. 3, and their second — a game played without Zampier, who had suffered a sprained ankle earlier that week — came against Lehigh two days later.
Underclassmen Morgan, fellow guard Mike Grace ’13, Willhite and Mangano have all seen considerable playing time early on this season thanks to a barrage of injuries for the Bulldogs.
“I think the freshmen and the upperclassmen have meshed well on this team,” Morgan said. “The upperclassmen have done a great job of leading the way by example and incorporating us into the team, and they have done it so well our team chemistry has become a strength for our team.”
Yale’s Ivy League campaign gets underway Friday at 7 p.m. in John J. Lee Amphitheater when the 6–10 Brown Bears come to New Haven.