NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Sophomore center Chris Young owned the Yale offense throughout the men's basketball team's game Saturday night, racking up six blocks and generally dominating the middle. With so many injuries depleting the Tiger lineup, Young stepped up, also scoring a game-high 17 points.
And on the last play of the game, with Yale leading 44-42, the Tigers turned to Young again. The sophomore received a dish from junior forward Nathan Walton and went up for the tying layup. Just as Young released the ball, however, Yale's junior center, Neil Yanke, got revenge on the Tigers' swatting big man, knocking Young's effort aside.
By the time Young gathered the ball again, the clock had expired and the Yale student body had begun their descent to the court, as the lowly Elis (6-12 overall, 4-2 Ivy League) had knocked off the Tigers (11-8, 3-1) in New Haven, Conn. for the second year in a row.
Just as it did last year, Princeton allowed Penn (11-7, 4-0) to claim control of the Ivy race with its surprising loss. Penn dominated the Elis Friday night, 61-36. Given no equivalent Quaker slip-ups, it is now likely that Princeton will have to beat Penn twice to take the Ivy title.
"Well, it's just a terrible loss. We dug ourselves a hole," head coach Bill Carmody said. "On the other hand, you win 10 games in a row, you win the league."
This was and was not the Princeton team that everyone knows. As epitomized in the Tigers' zero-substitution win over Georgetown in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament last year, Princeton tends to establish a starting line-up and leave it on the court. The Yale game was no different. The Tigers used only two subs, one of whom was hobbling sophomore forward Eugene Baah, who played only three minutes.
The difference this weekend was not in the number of the substitutes but in the names of the starters.
Throughout both games, Princeton featured sophomores Ray Robins and Mike Bechtold, two players whose floor time last year was essentially limited to warm-ups. Senior forward Mason Rocca's mangled ankle, Walton's broken hand, Baah's thigh contusion and freshman guard Spencer Gloger's twisted ankle pushed new faces onto the court.
The foreign word "depth" was thrown about with abandon after Friday night's game against Brown, in Providence, R.I., when Robins carried the Tigers to a 76-60 win over the Bears (6-10, 4-2). His line: 30 minutes played, 7 of 8 from the field, 3 of 3 from three-point range and 6 of 6 from the free throw line for 23 points.
Bechtold provided an equal boost in his 38 minutes played, leading the team with seven rebounds and five assists. The team as a whole lit the Bears up, shooting a season high 60 percent from the field and 52 percent from three-point range.
At the start of the Yale game, the Robins-Bechtold combination looked like the answer once again. In a planned hook-and-lateral style play, Young knocked the opening tip-off forward to Bechtold, who flipped a pass to a streaking Robins on the sideline. Before the Yale defenders knew what happened, Robins had given the Tigers the lead with a two-handed jam. Bechtold's turn came the next trip down the floor as he canned a 16-foot jumper to put the Tigers up 4-0.
And so ended the Era of Offense, as the Tigers would not recover their shooting touch. The key numbers jump off the stat sheet. Princeton was 2 for 16 from three-point range — 1 for 8 in each half. C.J. Chapman led the charge by going 0 for 5 from beyond the arc.
"We don't have the shooters that Princeton has," Yale head coach James Jones said. "We caught them on a good night."
The Tigers' sputtering offense was offset by their smothering defense. Chapman and El-Nokali harried the Eli ballhandlers, while Young was a wall down low, turning away shot after shot. On a Yale three-on-one with 11 minutes to play in the second half, Yale guard Jason Williams tried to take a layup over Young's head. Young calmly held his hands up and ripped the ball from Williams' grasp.
"Chris Young is a hell of a basketball player," Jones said. "Let's face it."
The injuries would eventually catch up to Princeton, however, over the last few minutes. Sophomore guard Ahmed El-Nokali fouled out with five minutes, 22 seconds to play, forcing the Tigers to employ a line-up that included only one healthy regular starter in Young. With Gloger on the bench and Chapman ice cold, the Tigers were missing any long range threat to put them over the top.
"You don't have too many options. You look down the bench, I wanted to put somebody in there," Carmody said.
Yale guard Onaje Woodbine scored Yale's 44th point with 3:26 to play, giving the Elis a four-point lead. But in 3:26, the Tigers could score only two points — two Robins free throws.
"We can't have any more games like this," Young said.