Just five days after a heartbreaking one-point loss at Rutgers, the Elis defended home court in their first game at John J. Lee Amphitheater against Sacred Heart.
After battling back and forth with the Pioneers (0–4, 0–0 NEC) for most of the game, the Bulldogs (2–2, 0–0 Ivy) pulled away in the closing minutes and prevailed, 80–65, in an impressive early season showing.
After struggling in his previous two games, guard Nick Victor ’16 had a bounce-back effort, leading the team with 16 points on perfect 7–7 shooting from the floor.
“I just need to be more aggressive,” Victor said. “I need to find my spots, where to drive and attack. I worked on my shot and it’s paying off.”
Even more impressive were Victor’s three blocks, including a chase-down swat late in the first half that led to a layup by forward Justin Sears ’16 on the other end.
Sears joined in on the block party with a vicious rejection of Sacred Heart’s leading scorer on the season, forward Louis Montes, at the 1:15 mark in the first half. After a turnover left the Elis scrambling, Montes drove baseline past the defense only to meet Sears, who plucked his shot out of the air to the delight of the crowd.
Sears led the team with 9 rebounds to go along with his 13 points. The starting backcourt of Javier Duren ’15 and Armani Cotton ’15 contributed a combined 27 points and 11 rebounds, but also had just five assists to their six turnovers. Forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 rounded things out with 10 points, including a rim-rattling dunk that sealed the game near the end of the second half.
The Yale defense held Montes, who came into the game averaging 20.3 points per game, scoreless through 22 minutes of action and allowed Sacred Heart just four three-point field goals out of 18 attempts.
On the other end of the court, however, the Bulldogs had trouble running their offense against an aggressive zone press by the Pioneers, who forced 14 Yale turnovers.
“I think we’re a lot better than we played,” head coach James Jones said. “Our offense did not run smoothly. We took some chances that we didn’t need to take. If we just moved the basketball we would have gotten better shots.”
The Elis closed the first half leading 38–25, but had to withstand a late comeback by the Pioneers, who closed the gap to six points after guard Evan Kelley scored on a layup with 7:36 left in the game. The Bulldogs kept their composure, however, as Duren scored the game’s next five points to give Yale some breathing room.
“I just thought we calmed down,” Jones said. “We forced them to make mistakes and we got some stops without fouling. Once we stopped fouling and defended we were in good shape.”
Duren’s outburst ignited a 14–1 Yale run in which Sears scored five points and took three trips to the free throw line.
The Pioneers had trouble containing the explosive Sears and resorted to fouling him in the second half. The sophomore struggled from the line, going just 5–11, but he showed assertiveness down the stretch, nailing an 18-foot jumper when the offense broke down with five minutes left in the game.
“I got kind of frustrated,” Sears said. “I just got in this mindset like, ‘Hey this game has got to end.’ I just needed to attack.”
The Elis will now head to Macon, Georgia on Saturday to take on Mercer (2–2, 0–0 A-Sun).
The Bears had a strong season last year, but Victor said the Bulldogs are anxious to compete.
”I think we can play with anybody,” he said. “If we play our ball and with team effort, not [as] individuals, we can beat anybody.”
Yale tips off against Mercer this Saturday at 7 p.m.