The men’s basketball team proved there is no place like home for the holidays. After falling to Wake Forest University and the No. 14 University of Florida on the road, the Elis righted the ship upon returning to Lee Amphitheater last week, easily handling the College of the Holy Cross 82-67 on Tuesday and powering past St. Joseph’s of Long Island 101-86 yesterday.
Fresh off of a 10-day break for exams and with the prospect of another 10-day holiday break awaiting them, the Bulldogs struggled against the Rhode Island Rams (3-13, 0-1 Atlantic-10) on Dec. 18. Trailing by as many as eight early in the second half, guard Austin Morgan ’13 knocked down a trio of three-pointers to fuel an 18-3 run that gave Yale a 50-43 advantage. A late 12-0 push by the Rams gave Rhode Island a 63-61 lead, but Morgan drained his fifth shot of the night from beyond the arc with just 0:18 left on the clock to take the lead. Although the Elis salvaged the 68-65 victory, guard Michael Grace ’13 said that the team was not focused.
“It’s always a difficult game going into break,” Grace said. “Guy’s minds are elsewhere … [concentrating on the game] takes great mental fortitude.”
The Elis returned to the court 10 days later at Wake Forest (10-5, 1-0 ACC).
The Demon Deacons led all night, but with Yale down 56-37, guard Isaiah Salafia’s ’14 long-range jumper cut the lead to 16 and started a Bulldog comeback. The rally came too late for the Bulldogs though, as they lost 72–71.
The trip to Winston-Salem was special for Grace, as he grew up there and played at the local Mount Tabor High School with Wake Forest guard C.J. Harris and forward Brooks Godwin. Grace scored a season-high 12 points in front of a crowd that included more than 85 of his friends and family.
The Bulldogs traveled further south to Gainesville to face the then tenth-ranked Florida Gators (12-4, 0-1 SEC) on New Year’s Eve.
Playing in its first nationally-televised game of the year on ESPNU, Yale started the game clicking on cylinders. The Bulldogs connected from beyond the arc on the first three shots of the game to take a 9-0 lead. The Gators responded with a 29-6 run to take the lead for good.
The Florida run was triggered by a Kenny Boynton triple — the first of 12 Florida threes. The Gators lead the nation with 169 three-pointers made.
Florida prevailed 90-70, but the result showed that when Yale plays well it can compete with the nation’s top squads, Grace said.
“It was great to come in and play a team of [Florida’s] caliber,” Grace said. “The score wasn’t as close as the game was.”
One reason the Bulldogs kept pace was forward Greg Mangano ’12, who scored a game-high 26 points.
“Mangano is a terrific and unique player,” Donovan said. “I don’t think we’ll face another guy like that … I say this in a very complimentary way: he’s very awkward.”
Mangano was awarded Ivy League Player of the Week honors for the final week of 2011 as he averaged 23 points and 13.5 rebounds in two games. He also broke former NBA center Chris Dudley’s ’87 school record for career blocks in the game at Wake Forest.
After three games and 27 days, the Elis returned to the court at Lee Amphitheater and won 82-67 against the Holy Cross Crusaders (7-8, 1-0 Patriot League).
Yale led by as many as 22 points in the first half and although the Crusaders cut the lead to 61-57, the Elis responded with a 16-6 run to put the game away.
The Bulldogs pushed their perfect home record to five wins this season with a victory against St. Joseph’s College of Long Island.
The path to Yale’s first 10-win season in the non-conference portion of the schedule since 2001-02 did not come easy against the Golden Eagles.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 28-4 lead, but St. Joseph’s stormed back and cut the deficit to 46-43 going into intermission. Jones and Mangano agreed that the Elis played poorly on defense.
“The general consensus in the locker room right now is that we played pretty poorly [on defense],” Mangano said. “It’s always nice to get a win but I think it is more disappointing the fact that we gave up 80-something points in our own gym to a team like that.”
Not wanting to loose to a Division III basketball program, the Bulldogs stormed out of the half on a 28-13 run. Mangano led the charge with 20 second-half points. He finished the game with a career-high 35 points and 22 rebounds. It was the first 20-plus rebound performance since Dudley hauled in 20 boards against Harvard in 1987.
Yale opens Ivy League play at home against Brown on Jan. 14.