CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Yale’s luck may have run out on Saturday night, and with it, their chance of an Ivy League title. They have battled back all season long, but finally dug themselves a hole they couldn’t dig out of in a 66-51 loss at Harvard with first place on the line.
You might say Yale had gotten used to playing from behind. Last Saturday’s phenomenal comeback win at Columbia, where they trailed by 21 with 11:30 left in the second half, was the sixth time this season the Bulldogs have won despite trailing at the half. But that’s a dangerous way to play, and no matter how many times you have success, if you play with fire enough you will soon get burned.
“It’s hard to come from behind all the time,” said head coach James Jones.
On Saturday, Harvard ran out to a 35-15 lead in the first half. It was as much the offense Yale was running as Harvard’s defense, as the Bulldogs didn’t always make good decisions but only turned the ball over twice. Harvard then ran good offense to get the lead up. Yale scored the last 11 points of the half to put themselves within striking distance. At that point, it was manageable, and Yale cut into the lead even more early in the second half.
“We felt like, we can do this,” Jones said of how the team felt at the half. “We made an adjustment, and we stopped them from driving the ball. We felt good about it, win the first five minutes and you’re there.”
It looked like a familiar script for Yale, much as the first half looked familiar for Harvard, who blew out the Bulldogs in New Haven just three weeks earlier. But after Reggie Willhite got in foul trouble, the Bulldogs looked like they might have run out of gas. Harvard got the lead back into double digits with under nine minutes to play, and it remained there for most of the remainder of the game.
It wasn’t how Greg Mangano, who did all he could with 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots, thought it would wind up at one point. But he knows that allowing Harvard a 20-point lead was not how you win a game, especially at Lavietes Pavilion.
“We came in pretty confident going into the second half, and at one point in the second half cut it down to four,” said the senior big man. “I thought we were going to win it there.”
Turnovers have plagued Yale often, but not on Saturday night as they gave the ball away a season-low seven times. The issue was the shots they got, as they shot just 33.3 percent from the field, while their defense didn’t help as Harvard shot nearly 58 percent. Add in Harvard winning the rebounding battle by a decisive 33-22 margin – the Bulldogs came in out-rebounding opponents by just over six per game – and one sees that the Bulldogs did several things to lose this game.
To Jones, the last statistic might have stood out as much as any.
“We didn’t win the rebounding battle, we lost the game,” said the Yale mentor. “We weren’t physical enough, we lost the game, bottom line.”
Evidence enough that the offense was one culprit came in a stat Jones noted after the game. Yale was 15-23 at the free throw line, while Harvard only attempted 14 free throws.
“There were times when we didn’t get good shots on offense,” said Jones. “I think when we got the ball inside and took it to the basket, we were pretty good.”
Yale has trailed at halftime in more than half of their games this season, as Saturday was the 12th time in 23 games that was the case. Their record is now even in that scenario, but the fact that they have won even half of those games is a testament to the team’s ability to play from behind and is a little remarkable. Now, though, they’re playing from behind in the standings, and in such a way that they can’t successfully complete it all by themselves. They need help, and that’s not the position they want to be in.