It may not have been pretty, but the Yale men’s basketball team got the job done on Saturday, defeating Hartford 54–49 for its second straight win.
The Elis (4–3, 0–0 Ivy) were coming off a remarkable victory at Lafayette on Nov. 26, where, with the game tied at 76, guard Javier Duren ’15 drained a 30-foot jump shot to beat the buzzer and the Leopards.
“I just wanted to get the ball in my hands and take it down court to see how far I could get,” Duren said. “I was aware of the clock the entire time and stopped short of where I wanted to end up, so I let it fly. Fortunately it went in.”
The Elis entered their game with the Hawks (2–6, 0–0 AEC) on Saturday hoping to establish a winning streak. Hartford came into the game having lost its last three contests, including an 87–48 blowout at the hands of No. 9 Louisville.
The game got off to a quick start, with guard Armani Cotton ’15 and Hartford’s Mark Nwakamma trading 3-pointers. But the action tapered off from there, as the teams missed their next combined eight shots. At the end of the first half, both teams were shooting under 30 percent from the field. Both teams shot under 35 percent from the field for the game. Captain Jesse Pritchard ’14 attributed the poor shooting to the “dull environment.”
“I don’t think it was necessarily the Hartford defense that was forcing us to miss shots,” Pritchard said. “We just were not able to come in and make shots we can normally make.”
The Elis uncharacteristically struggled on the boards early on, grabbing just 15 rebounds in the first half to Hartford’s 21. Offensively, the story was not much better, as Yale’s top two leading scorers, forward Justin Sears ’16 and Duren, went a combined 2–10 from the field for six points. Duren said that the Bulldogs settled for too many jump shots early, but that head coach James Jones told the Bulldogs to attack the basket and get to the free-throw line.
After Jones’ halftime adjustments, the Bulldogs returned for the second half revitalized. The Elis hit the boards and were able to get to the line 19 times. The team attacked the basket hard, only attempting three shots from beyond the arc in the second frame after taking 12 3-pointers in the first half.
The duo of Sears and Duren was particularly effective. Sears recorded 10 points and five rebounds in the second half, while Duren had 10 points and four rebounds. Together they combined for 12 attempted free throws in the second half.
Sears filled out the stat sheet, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding with a 16-point, 10-board double-double in addition to four blocks and four steals. Through seven games, Sears is leading the team in both points (17.6) and rebounds (7.9) per game.
Pritchard added eight points on 2–3 shooting from 3-point range. Forward Brandon Sherrod ’15, struggling with foul trouble, recorded four points, three assists and three rebounds.
Hartford head coach John Gallagher spoke highly of Yale in the postgame press conference.
“For us to sit here and say it’s a complete negative, that wouldn’t be the case,” Gallagher said. “We held a team [Yale] that went to Easton, Pa., and won at Lafayette which is probably one of the harder feats to do, to 32 percent shooting in the game.”
After three straight games with the number of free-throw attempts under 40, Saturday’s game was evidence that the freedom of movement rule changes, which the NCAA introduced this past off-season to limit hand-checking on the perimeter, are still having an impact on the game. Yale and Hartford combined for 49 free throw attempts. Yale’s season opener against Sacred Heart featured a combined 64 trips to the line.
“Teams are still getting used to the new rules,” Duren said. “It’s frustrating at times because of the ambiguity of certain calls on defense, but on the flip side the offense can be more aggressive because refs are calling more fouls. It will take some getting used to.”
Despite early rebounding troubles, the Elis won the battle of the boards 36–33 after recording a 19–10 edge in rebounds in the second half. Yale has continued the trend from last season, outrebounding its opponents by nearly four boards a game. Nonetheless, Pritchard said the team is determined to improve its rebounding numbers.
“I don’t think we’re content with how we’re rebounding right now,” Pritchard said. “With the schedule coming up, we’re going to be able to really increase our margin of rebounding. It’s just a constant effort and a constant stress by our coaching staff.”
Pritchard also said the Elis are concerned with the way they have been playing defense. Though the team scores well from distance, 6.1 threes per game on 36.4 percent shooting, they are giving up 7.6 threes per game on 42.1 percent shooting from deep.
With the Elis now returning to New Haven for a two-game homestand against Bryant and New Hampshire, Pritchard said they will look to extend their winning streak.
“Now is a great time to gear up,” Pritchard said. “We’re reaching a point in our schedule where the teams we play are very similar to the teams we’re going to play in [the Ivy League]. If we can get a winning streak going and start to form an identity, it would only raise our level of confidence.”
The Elis will take on Bryant in John J. Lee Amphitheater Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.