Yale rotten in big apple

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Photo by Lakshman Somasundaram.

The Yale men’s basketball team came one trip to New York City short of sweeping its fourth consecutive weekend of Ivy League action. Instead, the Bulldogs had to settle for a split in Ivy play. The Bulldogs were able to dismantle Cornell Friday night, but Columbia snapped Yale’s seven-game win streak yesterday.

Stout interior defense, a remarkable propensity to get to and convert at the free throw line and command of the rebounding battle had fueled Yale’s streak, its longest since 2001-’02.

That streak reached its zenith when Yale (14–10, 8–2 Ivy) overcame Cornell (2–22, 1–9) in a fairly straightforward matchup that saw Yale build an early lead before padding on at the end to win 82–65 in Ithaca, N.Y.

The story of the night was Yale’s point guard situation. Point guard Javier Duren ’15 was unable to see any action Friday night due to a high ankle sprain suffered during last weekend’s win against Princeton.

Starting in place of Duren was guard Isaiah Salafia ’14, who did his part in orchestrating the Yale attack, primarily by moving the ball well and finding the open Bulldog. Salafia, however, did not take a single shot — that’s where guard Jack Montague ’16 stepped in.

Montague, who had been averaging just 2.1 points per game in very limited minutes due to the strong play of Duren, erupted in the first half, coming off the bench to hit four of his five three-point attempts.

“They left us with a lot of open 3’s,” Montague said. “I felt hot and just tried to take what they were giving us.”

Montague’s 12 points before the break were matched by forward Justin Sears ’15, who entered play having earned his league-leading fifth Ivy League Player of the Week award the weekend before.

In addition to the output of the inside-outside duo of Montague and Sears, the Bulldogs dominated in just about every facet of the game in the first half. Behind 60.7 percent shooting from the field, the Bulldogs entered the half with a comfortable 45–31 lead.

Cornell, which has struggled this year, fought back to cut the lead to seven points with 13:45 to play in the game, but the Big Red would get no closer. Yale would outscore Cornell 29–19 the rest of the way to secure the win.

Montague finished the night with a career-high 18 points in the absence of Duren, while Sears led all Yale scorers with 19. Forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 also had key contributions, coming off the bench to compile 13 points and seven rebounds.

Besides withstanding the second-half charge of Cornell, the Bulldogs also managed to survive despite the play of Big Red guard Devin Cherry, who was firing on all cylinders on his way to a game-high 29 points.

Seeking to extend its winning steak to eight, Yale traveled to Francis S. Levien Gymnasium Sunday afternoon to face off against Columbia with a chance to sweep the season series against the Lions. When all was said and done, however, Yale had toppled from the top of the Ivy League at the paws of the Lions.

Columbia (17–10, 6–4 Ivy) entered the afternoon seeking to make amends for a 10-point loss to the Bulldogs on Jan. 31 that sparked a 1–4 stretch for the Lions, knocking Columbia from the top of the Ivy ladder. On Sunday though, the roles were reversed and the Lions leaned on an unexpected source to capture the 62–46 victory.

Guard Steve Frankoski, who entered the game having scored 10 total points over six games due to a wrist surgery, had a spectacular first half. The sharpshooter scored 14 of Columbia’s first 21 points to build a nine-point advantage over Yale just 11 minutes into the game.

“That was a big lift for them. He’s got such a quick release,” said head coach James Jones. “He’s somebody that was in the scouting report, but you’re not worried about him going for [14 points] in the first half.”

Yale withstood the assault to an extent, as the trio of Sears, Montague, and guard Armani Cotton ’15 combined for 19 of Yale’s 23 first-half points. Entering the break, the Bulldogs trailed by just seven despite Columbia shooting over 50 percent from the field.

The second half saw the lead teeter around 10 points for a good chunk of the period until a modest 6–0 Yale run capped off by a layup from forward Matt Townsend ’15 brought the Bulldogs within six. But just as in Yale’s only other Ivy loss, which came against Brown on Jan. 25, hot perimeter shooting and a substantial first half lead was too much for the Elis to overcome.

Frankoski was silent for much of the second half, scoring only three points. But boy were those three points huge. After both Frankoski and Columbia’s leading scorer, forward Alex Rosenberg, each missed multiple times on potential daggers from long range, Frankoski finally found his range once more with 6:48 to go to put Columbia ahead by 13, a lead that would prove insurmountable.

“It felt great. Coach [Kyle Smith] gives me that confidence to go out and shoot the ball. He calls me a home-run hitter,” Frankoski said. “If I’m open, I shoot it. And we were waiting for a nice three to knock down in the second half and we finally got one that kind of put us over the top.”

Frankoski would finish with 17, supported by 18 from Rosenberg and 16 from guard Maodo Lo.

Such a stat line from a pair of guards and a forward is not unfamiliar to Yale. When the Bulldogs are at their best, it is Duren, Cotton and Sears stirring the drink. On Sunday, however, Sears and Cotton combined for 28 points and 16 rebounds, but there was no consistent third option.

“Not having Brandon [Sherrod] or somebody else to score — Armani and Justin scored enough — somebody else had to step up and we didn’t get a good stretch out of anybody today,” Jones said.

Sherrod registered a goose egg in the points column, and Yale’s bench as a whole only mustered eight points.

Cotton and Sears each struggled as well, whatever their point totals may say. They were a combined 8–21 from the field and Sears could only hit on 50 percent of his free throws, leaving seven points off the scoreboard. With Duren unavailable again, the Lions concentrated their defense inside and forced other Bulldogs to score, and their strategy worked to perfection.

“We didn’t move the ball real well. They packed it in,” Jones said. “Our inability to make free throws affected a number of different areas for us. Our energy level went down because of it and that really hurt us.”

As Jones mentioned, the Bulldogs shot poorly from the charity stripe as a team, making just 40.9 percent compared to 77.3 percent for the Lions. The home-weekend sweep for Columbia is the first in five years for the hosts.

As for the implications of the Yale defeat, the Bulldogs are now alone in second place — one game behind Harvard. Yale still controls its own destiny, however, as the Elis will welcome the Crimson to John J. Lee Amphitheater on March 7.

Before Harvard comes to town, though, Yale will tip off next Week at Princeton (15–8, 3–6) at 7:00 p.m. Friday night.

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