The Ivy League season got off to an adventurous start for the Yale men’s basketball team on Saturday. When the final buzzer sounded, the hosting Bulldogs had outlasted the Brown Bears 74–67.
Yale (7–8. 1–0 Ivy) has now defeated Brown in nine of their last 11 meetings. Most importantly, however, the Bulldogs were able to jump out to a quick start in conference play.
“That’s the best we’ve played in quite some time,” head coach James Jones said. “When we struggle, it’s when we don’t get something from a second and third guy, and we got that tonight.”
Those in attendance were treated to a tightly-contested 40 minutes of action that pitted Yale’s balanced attack against Brown (8–7, 0–1) and the Ivy League’s top scorer, guard Sean McGonagill.
Four Bulldogs reached double figures, led by the exceptional all-around play of guard Armani Cotton ’15, who set season highs with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Forward Justin Sears ’16 added a game-high 20 points along with six rebounds, forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 chipped in 10 and point guard Javier Duren ’15 registered 16 points in addition to five steals.
The X factor in the Yale victory, though, was the battle-tested Cotton. Having played limited minutes in recent games and struggling to recover from injuries, Cotton was one of few bright spots for the Bulldogs in the first half.
“It’s been a long nonconference first half of the season for me with ups and downs,” Cotton said. “Coach always talks about peaking at the right time … I’m ready now and my health is going in the right direction, so I’m just excited for the Ivy League right now.”
Yale shot just 32.1 percent in the first half and was out-rebounded 22–17 by the Bears, yet the Bulldogs entered the locker room with a 33–31 advantage. The lead was in large part due to Cotton’s 12 points and six rebounds. Duren also added 12 first-half points.
The second half saw improved play from the Elis, led by Sears and Sherrod, and it appeared as if the Bulldogs were on the verge of blowing the game wide open.
A made free throw by guard Isaiah Salafia ’14 with 6:50 remaining capped a 22–11 run that put Yale up by 11, good for the largest lead of the game. That run was highlighted by an emphatic one-handed tomahawk jam by Sherrod that shook the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
The stars were aligned for a Yale victory, but the Bulldogs suddenly suffered what had the potential to be a catastrophic disaster. Duren turned his ankle under the Brown basket and limped off the court at a pivotal moment in the game.
With Yale’s floor general off the court, the Bears pounced with a 13–4 run that cut the Yale lead to one at 66–65 with 2:21 left to play.
That would be as close as Brown would get to completing its comeback. Sherrod knocked down two free throws to extend the lead to three before Duren, still limping noticeably, returned to the court.
Yale ended the game on an 8–2 run, as the Bears misfired on three three-point attempts in the final minute and a half. As for the Bulldogs, they sealed the game at the free-throw line by converting eight of 10 attempts in the game’s waning moments.
Sears took the majority of the clutch attempts, hitting five of six attempts over the final minute and 14 seconds to give him 20 points for a team-leading fourth time this season.
“In high school, one of my teammates said whenever you have to shoot a tough free throw, think of something that relaxes you,” Sears said. “So I always think that I’m watching Entourage.”
Sears’ performance even earned him his second Ivy League Player of the Week award this season, though Sears said that he felt Cotton was more deserving of the honor.
Free throws turned out to play a large role in Yale’s victory. Yale scored 27 points from the line over the course of the game, as opposed to just 14 points from the charity stripe for Brown.
The aggressiveness was a pleasant sight for Jones, though he said he believes that there is still room for growth.
“That’s some of the things we talked about, like not settling,” Jones said. “I thought we could have taken a few more free throws actually … We feel that our post guys are as good as anybody’s in the league and if we get deep, we want them to go up strong and try to finish.”
The Bears will have a chance for redemption when they host the Bulldogs this Saturday at 4 p.m.