February 4, 2008

Cold Shooting Hurts Yale; Efficient Offense Aids Red

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. — You might have thought the Yale men’s basketball team was building an addition to its Oxford-style stone arena Saturday night with all the bricks its players were throwing up. The Bulldogs shot 27.6 percent in the first half, and even lower — 24.1 percent — in the second half on its way to a 66-45 defeat at the hands of the men’s basketball team. It was Cornell’s first win at Yale since 2001.
“We were probably just as surprised as everyone in the stands that we won by that much,” said senior forward Jason Hartford said. “We’re not used to coming into Yale and winning, much less like this.”
“I felt [Yale was tight] for some reason,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “I think they just had a bad game. It’s hard to explain. They are a very good team. … They can play a lot better. They know that.”
Yale (7-11, 1-3 Ivy) had more than just a bad game; it had a bad weekend. Friday night, the Bulldogs fell to Columbia, 71-58. From the opening tip Saturday it seemed they were carrying some residual effects.
From the first possession, the Red (12-5, 4-0) was able to execute its offense, utilizing hard pick-and-rolls, sharp cutters and crisp passes. On the first possession, sophomore Ryan Wittman — who had a game-high 18 points — lost his man coming off a screen and hit a 3 on a feed from sophomore Louis Dale.
The next time down, junior Alex Tyler screened Dale’s man, then rolled to the basket where Dale found him with a leaping pass. Drawing the last defender to him, Tyler found a cutting Hartford for the easy layup.
The picks, passes and cuts vaulted the Red to a 10-0 lead before the Bulldogs put its first points on the board at the 15:40 mark of the first half.[img_assist|nid=27242|title=The Wittman is no joke|desc=Sophomore Ryan Wittman (20) led the Red with 21 points in the team’s 75-64 win over Brown Friday. A 7-0 second-half run propelled the Red.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“[It was all about] execution,” said Hartford, who had 11 first-half points and 13 for the game. “That was our plan all week. We knew that Yale was going to come out, especially at Yale, and play really tough defense. We knew to get good shots — and open shots — we needed to get it inside-out. When we got it inside we needed to be poised and confident and execute well. We knew they liked to play a lot of man-to-man and we knew we had to be ready for them to step out and double.”
“I thought we needed to share the ball [to beat Yale] and we did a great job of that tonight,” Donahue said.
Cornell’s defense, too, was as stingy as its offense was efficient. Yale missed its first five shots while the Bulldog’s leading scorer, Eric Flato (13.8 points per game), was pulled early and never got into a rhythm. He finished the night 0-for-four, giving him a weekend total of 0-for-11.
“On Flato in particular [we were planning on defending out farther than usual],” said center Jeff Foote, who had a double-double with 11 points and 11 boards. “We knew he had a rough game last night and we kind of wanted to get into him and make him have to work hard to get some shots. We did a good job of that. It was a little bit of game planning.”
And unlike Cornell, whose big men kept popping open rolling off screens, Foote shored up the screen-and-roll defense for the Red. In particular, he hassled forward Ross Morin into a three-of-nine shooting day.
“[Foote] has a lot to do with our improved defense,” Donahue said. “He moves so well. It’s not that he’s just seven-foot, he knows where to be and he plays for the most part without fouling. Ross Marin is one of the best forwards in the league and he had a difficult time shooting over him.”
Foote displayed his ability to stay foul-free when need be when he played much of the second half with four fouls, one from fouling out.
By the time the second half started, though, Cornell already had an 18-point advantage with Wittman doing his usual thing (11 points) and Hartford cutting to the hoop or spreading the floor for a kick-out jumper.
“I think [Hartford’s] one of the better forwards in the league and now he’s healthy for one of the first times since we’ve had him,” Donahue said. “… He’s another guy that people don’t talk about. He has an ability to step away from the basket and make shots. He’s got good size and he knows how to play.”
Yale hung around, though, by continuing to crash the offensive boards. The Bulldogs held an 8-2 advantage after 20 minutes, and increased that to 18-7 by the final whistle.
“They are a physical team and they do a terrific job [on the offensive glass],” Donahue said. “At some point in the game they figured they had to go throw it and get it. They were frustrated. I give them credit because they played hard the whole way. They used what they could at that point and that was to go chase balls down. They do that well. I’m disappointed that we didn’t hold our own better there.”
But the Red countered the offensive rebounds by holding tight on second-chance possessions. In fact, Cornell finished with a 12-10 advantage in that category.
“We knew their guards would dribble in and not throw up the best shots,” Hartford said. “They would just get it up on the glass and then their whole team would just crash the boards. So when they got those rebounds they weren’t putting up high percentage shots. They were just tapping it back up. We knew once they started doing their tapping drill that we had to get in there and muscle them out.”
Yale’s one threat to get back into the game, a 7-0 run midway through the half to cut the lead from 25 to 18, ended when Wittman nailed a 3 from several feet behind the arc. With the shot clock winding down and a defender right on him, Wittman created space by falling back and he drained the shot as the shot clock buzzer sounded.
In the end it the Red’s largest margin of victory over the Bulldogs since 1978.
“[I think Yale] will challenge for [an Ivy] championship,” Donahue said. “I don’t have any question. I think they are as good a team as there is in the league, but I think they just had a bad weekend.”