NEW HAVEN, CONN. — “Redemption.”
It was the first thing that Yale head coach James Jones said to senior Casey Hughes when the two embraced on the sideline after Hughes subbed out of the game against Cornell in John J. Lee Amphitheater on Friday. With one word, Jones summed up what the night meant to Hughes, who scored 18 points on his 22nd birthday to help the Bulldogs to a 68-55 win over the Red after he missed two free throws with two seconds remaining in Cornell’s 60-59 win in Ithaca on Feb. 10.
“You don’t want to look back on the season and see a moment like [the loss against Cornell] and see our season end like that,” Hughes said. “So I feel a little bit of redemption right now.”
[img_assist|nid=21670|title=Push it up.|desc=Senior tri-captain Graham Dow (3) and the men’s basketball team floundered at Yale on Friday, losing to the Bulldogs, 68-55, to fall to third place in the Ivy League.|link=none|align=left|width=66|height=100]
The loss dropped the Red to 7-4 in the Ivy League (14-11 overall), while Yale held onto second place in the conference standings by improving to 8-3 (12-12 overall).
“I thought we battled, but I didn’t think we played very well,” said Cornell head coach Steve Donahue. “But partly that has to do with Yale. I thought they were ready, I thought they defended well, I thought they had a purpose [on] both sides of the ball. I thought we gave a gutty effort.”
Senior Andrew Naeve provided a silver lining for Cornell despite the loss, as he set a school record with his fifth consecutive double-double by tallying 14 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Freshman Louis Dale was the only other player to break into double digits for the Red, as he added 17 points on the night.
Hughes scored 16 points in the second half as Yale broke the game wide open, and added seven rebounds, three assists and a game-high four steals on the night for the Bulldogs, as well as a reel of high-flying dunks throughout the game. Juniors Eric Flato and Ross Morin had 18 and 10 points, respectively, for the Bulldogs.
The visitors took an early lead, but a bucket from Morin at the 13:25 mark gave Yale a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the way. While the Red shot better from the floor in the first half, connecting on 39.1 percent of its shots compared to the Bulldogs’ 34.6 field goal percentage, and held a 17-15 edge on the glass, Yale took a 27-22 lead into the halftime break.
Cornell played uninspired basketball in the first half, giving up 10 of its 13 turnovers on the night in the first frame and leaving Yale room to maneuver through the Red’s zone defense. Donahue attributed the turnovers to the lack of experience of the Red’s youthful squad facing a hostile crowd on the road.
“I thought our guys were ready. Unfortunately, we still have some inexperience,” Donahue said. “We don’t take care of the ball as well as we could. In this environment, I had a feeling that was one of the keys to the game.”
Yale came out of the locker room with all engines firing, holding Cornell without a field goal until freshman Ryan Wittman hit a 3-pointer with 15:36 left in the game to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 37-27. But it wasn’t enough to stop a Yale squad that was rolling behind Hughes, who scored on Yale’s first three possessions of the half, including a back-door dunk on an alley-oop pass from junior Caleb Holmes.
Hughes brought the crowd to its feet once more a few minutes later, when he grabbed Naeve’s block of Flato’s shot out of midair and jammed it home to give the Bulldogs a 42-35 lead.
“The reason why we had such a great start to the second half was because of [Hughes],” Jones said. “He’s done a great job all season long.”
The trio of Naeve, Dale and Wittman created enough offense to bring Cornell within four points three separate times down the stretch, but Yale always seemed to have an answer. Hughes converted a three-point play after he was fouled on a put-back dunk with 3:28 remaining, and Flato connected on two 3-pointers in traffic in the final three minutes that his coach described as “ridiculous” to seal the victory for the Bulldogs.
“Overall, I think we’ve all forgotten how young we are and [Yale] is a veteran group and I think they’re very good,” Donahue said. “I think that’s what you saw, just a little bit of inexperience in a tough situation. But we still overcame that, we fell down by 10 and we came back and made it a game.”
The final stats told the whole story, as Yale connected on 55.2 percent of its field goal attempts in the second half, while Cornell shot just 38.5 percent. The Bulldogs finished the game with a 36-30 advantage in rebounding, including a 12-9 edge on the offensive glass.