MEN’S BASKETBALL: CIT semis await

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Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

Six days after a come-from-behind victory at Columbia in the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, the Yale men’s basketball team has another chance to extend its historic season.

This time, however, the Bulldogs (18–13, 9–5 Ivy) will be playing a less familiar foe in the form of the Virginia Military Institute (22–12, 11–5 Big South) during the tournament’s semifinal game tonight in Lexington, Va.

The contest will mark the first time that Yale has ever faced VMI, and the first Yale basketball game in Virginia since 2008.

“From our scouting report, we know they are a high-scoring team,” guard Javier Duren ’15 said in an email. “They look to get quick shots, as well as speed you up on the defensive end by pressing full court, so it will be a great test for us.”

The Keydets advanced to the semifinal of the CIT after narrowly handling Ohio 92–90 last week. That may sound like an unusually high score, but for VMI, NBA-level scoring totals have been the norm all season.

VMI is the highest-scoring team in the nation with 89.0 points per game, over two points per game more than Northwestern State, the second-ranked team in this category. The Keydets have scored triple digits in 10 games this season, including twice in the CIT.

“As a team, we have to commit to the defensive end,” Duren said. “We have to make sure that every shot is tough and not allow second-chance points. Our transition defense has to be good as well.”

Yale has only surpassed VMI’s average once, when it topped Central Connecticut State 93–77 in its first game of the season.

Still, these numbers do not tell the whole story. The Keydets have put up high scores by putting less focus on their defense, which has allowed 82.8 points per game — the third-highest figure in Division-I basketball.

“We’re looking for them to try to have a simple high-flying game,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “We haven’t seen anybody like this before … We just have to really smart with our opportunities offensively.”

VMI’s scoring has been primarily focused on the three players who have started all 34 of its games: center D.J. Covington and guards Q.J. Peterson and Rodney Glasgow. All three players are averaging about 20 points per game, while Covington has grabbed an average of 9.4 rebounds per game.

The Bulldogs also have their share of high scorers. Last week, Duren went off for a career-high 33 points at Columbia to fuel a second-half comeback and 72–69 victory. Duren had been absent in Yale’s earlier loss to Columbia due to injury.

Though Duren was the answer for Yale in its last game, he said that an individual’s offensive performance is generally not enough to secure a victory.

“The good thing about our team is how balanced we can be scoring the ball,” Duren said. “We don’t have to have one guy with a great contribution in order to win, so I’d say it’s definitely going to take a team effort to win.”

Duren’s performance late in the game highlighted the ability of the Bulldogs, particularly recently, to close out tight games.

All three wins in the CIT have been decided by five or fewer points. In all, Yale is 7–2 in such games this season.

“I think that’s something that you have to learn as a team,” Jones said. “We’ve had enough of these close games that we feel pretty comfortable coming down the stretch. We make less mistakes than the other team, and that usually results in a victory.”

A win in the game would match Yale up on Thursday with the winner of Pacific and Murray State. But the Bulldogs’ performance in the tournament has already been historic regardless of the outcome.

Before this year, Yale had just one postseason win in its history, a 67–65 victory over Rutgers in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament in 2002. Yale has already won three tournament games this year.

But Jones said the Elis have not yet thought about the historical significance of their performance.

“We just want to keep going, trying to win games that we think we’re capable of,” Jones said. “At the end of the season we’ll look back upon what we’ve done, and maybe put a name to it, but right now we just want to play the next opponent.”

Tip-off will occur in Lexington, Va. at 7:00 p.m. tonight. The game will air on CBS Sports Network.

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