Coming off an 80–65 victory in its home opener Tuesday against Sacred Heart, the men’s basketball team’s home stand was short-lived. Right back on the road, Yale heads to Georgia to face Mercer on Saturday before coming back North to take on Lafayette Tuesday.
Yale (2–2, 0–0 Ivy) steadied itself in its first game in Payne Whitney this season, but head coach James Jones said there is still much work to be done, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
“I certainly didn’t think that the offense executed real well in our last game,” Jones said. “That being said, we scored 80 points. If we can get better, doing what we did, then we should be a pretty good basketball team.”
Yale’s 76.5 points per game thus far this season places them fourth in the Ivy League, though with such a small sample size, that ranking is subject to change. The offense will get its next opportunity to improve its flow and efficiency against Mercer (3–2, 0–0 Atlantic Sun).
The Bears, though not one of the more notable names in Division I basketball, have proven themselves as a legitimate team capable of competing at the highest level. Just this year, Mercer fell in a tight matchup against Big 12 opponent Texas 76–73, and defeated Seton Hall, a member of the BIG EAST, in double overtime.
Just last year, Mercer fell one game short of the NCAA Tournament due to an Atlantic Sun Tournament final loss against eventual Cinderella story Florida Gulf Coast.
Jones said that playing against such a team on the road should be another opportunity to challenge his team before the Bulldogs enter conference play.
“They’re better than you’d think they are. They’re a very good team and proved it last year,” Jones said. “It gives the kids another environment to see what we can do.”
The Bulldogs’ primary concern will likely be the play of Mercer point guard Langston Hall. The powerful guard, whose 16.2 points per game are fourth best in the Atlantic Sun, will be the first point guard this year who will match the size and strength of Yale point guard Javier Duren ’15.
Duren himself has proven to be a proficient scorer. Tied for fourth in the Ivy League with 17.3 points per game, the junior leader has established himself as the primary playmaker for the Elis. Duren also accounts for more than double the assists of any other Bulldog.
As far as the past two games go, however, Yale’s scoring has been more balanced across the roster. Four Elis scored in double-digits against Rutgers on Nov. 14, and the entire starting lineup registered at least 10 points against Sacred Heart. Guard Nick Victor ’16 had a breakout performance, scoring a career-high 16 points to share the team-high for the game with Duren.
Forward Justin Sears ’16, who is just a tick behind Duren with 17 points per game in addition to 8.2 rebounds per game, said that learning the roles of the offense may be a reason why more Bulldogs have been able to contribute as of late.
“We just need to work our offense to where players are starting to gain some confidence in their positions this year,” Sears said. “[Victor] played phenomenal [basketball] the other day.”
Mercer should provide a solid defensive effort that will test the Elis. The Bears are allowing less than 70 points a game this season.
That being said, Duren said that being more efficient on offense is a big goal for the Elis this weekend.
The Lafayette (0–3, 0–0 Patriot) matchup on Tuesday should also provide an interesting opportunity for the Bulldogs. While Jones said that the team will not focus on the Leopards until after Mercer, the game film of Lafayette’s last game should intrigue the Bulldogs.
Lafayette gave Yale’s fellow Ivy competitor Princeton a run for its money, losing 81–80 in overtime to the Tigers. Film evaluations of that matchup will likely provide Yale with important information concerning both future opponents.
Tipoff against Mercer is scheduled for 12 noon on. Saturday in Macon, Ga.