After a disappointing loss at Brown last Saturday, the men’s basketball team bounced back with impressive wins against Columbia and Cornell this weekend.
On Friday, Yale (9–9, 3–1 Ivy) took on the Lions, who came into the matchup having won their last six contests. Columbia (13–8, 2–2) posed a serious threat to the Bulldogs with its Ivy League-leading outside shooting. The Elis, who have struggled all season to guard the arc, headed into Friday’s matchup allowing their opponents to shoot a scorching 42.9 percent from distance.
The first half was evenly fought, with both teams going to the line a handful of times and struggling to shoot from the floor. At the break, Yale held a narrow 23–20 lead.
In the second half, the Elis took advantage of their strong inside presence and began to pull away. Yale’s frontcourt of Justin Sears ’16, Brandon Sherrod ’15 and Matt Townsend ’15 scored a combined 22 points on 7–8 shooting after the break as the Bulldogs went on to win 69–59.
Coming off the bench for the first time this season, Sears dominated, scoring 22 points on 5–8 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Guard Armani Cotton ’15 contributed 13 points and three boards, and guard Javier Duren ’15 rounded things out with six points, four assists and four rebounds.
The Bulldogs did an impressive job on defense, holding Columbia to just 4–17 shooting from beyond the arc, well under the Lions’ 40.1 percent average for the season. On the other end, Yale drew an impressive 47 free throws and converted them at a 72.3 percent clip.
On Saturday, the Elis took on last-place Cornell. The Big Red (1–17, 0–4) have struggled so far this season, but the Bulldogs have been adamant about not taking their opponents lightly just because of their records.
Despite having the advantage on paper, the Elis did not come out of the gate well, falling behind 8–0 before getting on the board with a free throw from Sherrod. Head coach James Jones took the blame for the bad beginning.
“They pressed us to start the game and instead of taking advantage of their press, as we did in the second half, we pulled it out to run plays and our offense stalled a little bit,” Jones said. “We didn’t take full advantage of those opportunities and that’s what led to the slow start.”
Guard Nolan Cressler kept Cornell in the game with 29 points on 8–16 shooting. This marks the second time the Elis have given up that many points against an opposing Ivy player. Brown guard Sean McGonagill also scored 29 against the Bulldogs in the Bears’ win last Saturday.
Behind Cressler and guard Devin Cherry, who scored 18 of his 19 points after the break, the Big Red were able to make a run in the second half, outscoring Yale 38–35. After trailing by 12 at one point, Cornell tied the game at 47 with 5:25 left behind a pair of Cressler free throws.
“We expected a run,” Cotton said. “They’re the type of team that has those spurts because they have capable players. We just knew we needed that one crucial stop and one big score. The good thing is we saw it coming and we wanted to make sure we stuck to the plan: try to get it inside.”
Townsend came up big for the Elis, scoring on consecutive layups late in the game to give his squad a five-point lead with 2:21 to go. Yale was able to hold on and eventually win the game, 61–57.
Sears, coming off the bench again, overcame his 3–12 shooting to put up 11 points, 11 boards and a block. Duren led the team with a very efficient 19 points to go along with five boards and one assist.
Yale’s two biggest concerns heading into this weekend, guarding the arc and rebounding, were both nonissues. The Elis held their opponents to a combined 8–30 from distance and were a combined +25 on the boards against them. After giving up nine threes and being outrebounded by 10 against Brown last weekend, this was an encouraging sight, according to Duren.
“We got our confidence back,” Duren said. “We’re confident we can take this thing as long as we play as a team. Any time you play back-to-back games, it’s tough, whether you’re home or away. For the guys to come together and play together one more time to get another win, it was really great.”
The Bulldogs will go on the road next weekend to take on Dartmouth before heading to Cambridge for their first look at the Crimson. If they can pull out a tough road win in New Hampshire, the Elis will have a three-game winning-streak behind them going into their match with Harvard.