Saturday’s regular season men’s basketball opener ended in fitting fashion when Yale forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 rejected Central Connecticut State University guard Matt Hunter’s layup attempt as time expired after a quick move to the basket. CCSU, like Hunter, had a great first step, but in the end, Yale proved to be too big and too formidable and came away with a 93–77 victory.
The Bulldogs (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) appeared to be in big trouble in the second game of the Connecticut 6 Classic at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. They trailed the Blue Devils (0–1, 0–0 NEC) 47–40 at the half.
The CCSU lead peaked with 14:12 remaining in the second half, as it held a 63–46 lead over Yale. Yale head coach James Jones, said he felt as though his team was a little too anxious in its first game of the season.
“I think that at the start of the second half we felt like we had to get it all back at once,” Jones said. “We tried to score seven points in one possession, but guys calmed down a little bit and Justin [Sears ’16] really turned it around by just chasing the ball on the glass.”
A 13–0 run for the Bulldogs, initiated by a jumper from forward Sears and capped off by a layup from forward Matt Townsend ’15, spelled the beginning of the end for the Blue Devils.
Yale closed out its season opener on a remarkable 47–14 run, turning a 17–point deficit into a 16–point victory. Leading the way for the Bulldogs was Sears, who had a monster effort, scoring 26 points as well as grabbing 13 rebounds and sending back four shots — all career highs.
Sears took over the game in the second half as he had a double-double in the final twenty minutes alone. Sears demonstrated complete confidence, demanding the ball in multiple instances, and he said that his offseason work played a huge role and gave him confidence.
In the midst of his career-best performance, the Blue Devils attempted to slow down Sears with double teams with about eight minutes to go. Sears had no problem deferring, which often led to open looks for his teammates, and he said he welcomed the double teams.
“I like to pass the ball,” Sears said. “Coach [Jones] has told me I need to look for my shot more, but if someone doubles me, I’d rather see someone else score.”
In the first half, the Elis appeared to be cruising towards a victory after they jumped out to a 12–2 lead. CCSU responded, however, as guard Kyle Vinales had his way with the Bulldogs’ defense in the first half, scoring 24 points.
In addition to the stellar play of Vinales, the Bulldogs were careless with their ballhandling, turning over the ball nine times in the first half. CCSU began to press the Elis about 10 minutes into the game, and the Bulldogs struggled without point guard Javier Duren ’15, who got into early foul trouble and had to sit out the final 13:30 of the first half.
Duren managed to return in the second half and play 16 of the final 20 minutes, compiling a final stat line of 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists. More important for the Bulldogs’ comeback was the drastic decrease in production from Vinales. Jones said a combination of defensive adjustments as well as Vinales’ own fatigue led to his drop in performance.
“The adjustment was to get the ball out of his hands,” Jones said. “He played the entire first half, 20 minutes, so that’s going to wear you down as well.”
Vinales managed to score just six points in the second half on 2–8 shooting, while also turning over the ball three times. With Vinales struggling and being forced to give up the ball, the Blue Devils’ offense faltered.
CCSU head coach Howie Dickenman said that he fully expected Yale to adjust to handle Vinales and that the Bulldogs succeeded in doing so.
“I’m sure what James Jones said, and what any coach would say, is that Vinales is killing us,” Dickenman said. “I’m sure they [Yale] said, ‘For us to win this game, we have to limit his shooting opportunities and keep him at a minimum,’ and he would up struggling … Kyle Vinales doesn’t score six points in a half.”
It was none other than Sears who put the Elis ahead for the first time in the second half, making the score 66–65 at the 6:45 mark on a free throw. CCSU would jump ahead briefly, but a huge three-pointer from Yale forward Greg Kelley ’15 gave the Bulldogs a 69–67 edge. The Blue Devils never reclaimed the lead.
Another big-time contributor for the Elis was guard Armani Cotton ’15, who added 17 points, which included a 7–8 mark from the free throw line. Every Eli that saw the court was able to crack the scoring charts, except for guard Jack Montague ’16. However, Montague was able to fill in for Duren in the first half and assisted on four baskets.
Saturday’s rally is not unique in recent Yale men’s basketball history, though the 17-point comeback is the largest since the Bulldogs came back from 21 points down against Columbia two seasons ago.
Moving forward, the Bulldogs will need to sure up their turnovers because they will not always be able to rely on hot shooting to bail them out. Yale shot 54.4 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from three-point range.
Yale will face a stiff test Monday at 3 p.m., when they travel to Hartford to take on the kings of Connecticut basketball, No. 18 UCONN (1–0, 0–0 AAC).