Last weekend, the Yale men’s basketball team took its season to new heights when it traveled to Cambridge and thoroughly dispatched the Crimson on its home floor. Now the Elis will look to extend their four-game winning streak against conference foes Penn and Princeton.
Since their last loss against Brown on Jan. 25, the Bulldogs (11–9, 5–1 Ivy) have looked like a different team. Before, the Elis were struggling on the boards and giving up high percentage looks from the three-point line. Since then, however, the Elis have out-rebounded every opponent and held their foes to below-average shooting from distance, while also picking up their own outside shooting.
“We haven’t changed our defense at all,” said guard Javier Duren ’15. “I don’t think before it was for any lack of effort. We just have a greater sense of accountability and urgency. We’re really holding each other up to certain standards now. We’ve really bought in.”
Throughout the season, head coach James Jones and the team have reiterated their desire to return to the identity the team had last year as a premier force on the glass. Over the last four games, the The Elis are out-rebounding their opponents by a margin of 12 boards per game. They are third in the Ivy League in rebounds allowed, clocking in at 31.1 per game, just ahead of Harvard’s 31.8.
Tonight, the Elis will get a chance to prove that their rededication to the glass is no gimmick when they take on the Quakers (6–13, 3–2), who rank third in the conference in boards. Several players expressed displeasure about Penn being selected to place ahead of Yale in the Ivy League in the in the preseason media poll despite dropping both games to the Elis last season. Though firmly in third place, with a series of tough games against Brown and Harvard coming up, Penn still has time to slip in the standings.
“Preseason polls don’t mean anything, nor do they determine the winners of the league,” said forward Brandon Sherrod ’15. “We will always play with a chip on our shoulder because if we don’t, complacency starts to settle in.”
Penn has not shown much perimeter shooting ability, but the Quakers have been able to get easy baskets nevertheless. The Quakers lead the conference in assists and are second in field goal percentage. Forward Fran Dougherty leads the team in points (15.6), rebounds (9.0) and shooting percentage (61.5 percent) through five conference games. A deciding factor in the contest could be Dougherty’s matchup with Yale’s leading big man, forward Justin Sears ’16.
On Saturday, the Elis will take on the Tigers (13–6, 1–4). After going 11–2 in their nonconference games, Princeton has struggled against conference opponents, losing four of its five Ivy matchups. Although the Tigers are in the midst of a tough stretch in their schedule, they pose a subtle threat as a possibly overlooked opponent for Yale on the second night of a back-to-back.
Princeton guard T.J. Bray is second in the conference in scoring, with 17.7 points per game. Yale has dealt with other high-scoring players, including Ivy League-leading scorerguard Sean McGonagill of Brown and Cornell guard Noah Cressler, but Bray combines his scoring ability with remarkable efficiency (55.5 field goal percentage) and strong all-around play (5.5 assists, 4 rebounds).
Duren noted, however, that the Tigers rely heavily on Bray to run their offense. He added that if the Elis can make life for Bray difficult on the court, then Yale can disrupt Princeton’s game plan.
“T.J. [Bray] is a great player in our League,” Sherrod said. “We’ll just try to contain him as best we can, and when he looks to make a play, our defense should be able to cover it up. He’s going to get some baskets, but as long as we remain solid, we should be OK.”
Bray averaged 13 points against the Bulldogs last season, more than three points above his season average of 9.9 points during the 2012-’13 season. He also averaged six assists against the Bulldogs last season, but averaged just 3.64 assists per game overall.
The Elis are playing their best ball of the season right now, but they know that to stay on top, they have to remain focused.
“No complacency,” Duren said. “That’s one of the biggest things coach [Jones] has preached to us. We had a great weekend, but that’s over now and we have to focus on our next game.”
The Elis tip off tomorrow evening against Penn at 7:00 in the John J. Lee Amphitheater.