The Yale men’s basketball team made an emphatic statement to the Ivy League with another weekend sweep — this time over Columbia and Cornell — as it moved into sole possession of first place in the conference.
Riding a 10-game winning streak, the program’s longest since the start of Ivy League play in 1957, the Bulldogs (15–5, 6–0 Ivy) opened Ivy play 6–0 for the first time in school history. Behind consistent lights-out shooting and sound defense, Yale picked up double-digit wins over then-undefeated Columbia and Cornell.
“We had a chance to do it last year and we didn’t,” head coach James Jones said of the 6–0 Ivy League start. “We got one of the games we lost last year back by beating Columbia in our building.”
Against the Lions (16–7, 5–1), the Bulldogs had a near-perfect game, shooting 61.5 percent from the field, 55.6 percent from downtown and 77.8 percent from the foul line, en route to an 86–72 victory.
Forward Justin Sears ’16 led all scorers with 27 points. The reigning Ivy League Player of the year shot 7–10 from the field and 2–3 from beyond the arc, atypical for the physical forward who entered the game having made eight three-pointers in his collegiate career.
“Earlier in the game, [Columbia forward Jeff Coby] dared me to shoot it, so I took that as a personal challenge,” Sears said. “He said ‘Shoot it,’ so I said ‘OK.’”
Fellow forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 was right behind Sears with a career-high 25 points on 6–8 shooting from the field. His performance was overshadowed by his first five shots of the night, as the senior tied and then broke the NCAA record for most consecutive made field goals in the first half. The new mark, set by the Bridgeport native, stands at 30 straight baskets from the floor.
Despite Yale’s stellar shooting, the game got off to a shaky start, as the Lions jumped out to a six-point lead thanks to five Eli turnovers in the first five minutes. Columbia guard Maodo Lo forced seven steals, tying a school record, and added 21 points on the offensive end.
“Maodo Lo is a tremendous player, and our guys did a great job on their shooters and getting out there and rebounding the ball and getting out in transition a little bit,” Jones said. “We also got to the foul line, and that helped.”
Lo, who led the Ivy League in scoring last year, matched up with point guard Makai Mason ’18 in a battle of two of the conference’s premier playmakers. Mason rattled off 11 of his 17 points in the first half, including 3–4 shooting from deep.
Though the Lions held a lead as late as 9:19 remaining in the first half, Yale closed out the period on a 25–15 run, punctuated by a high-arcing three-pointer from forward Blake Reynolds ’19 with just three seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 41–33 advantage.
Though Columbia forward Alex Rosenberg, a former first-team All-Ivy player, came off the bench to pick up 11 points in the game, he was held to just 3–10 shooting from the field. Guard Grant Mullins, who notched 13 points, was the only other Lion starter, besides Lo, to surpass 10 points.
Columbia entered the game leading the league in successful three-pointers, but the Lions went just 9–31 from beyond the arc. While Yale boasts the second-best three-point shooting percentage, it also has the second-best three-point shooting defense in the league.
“Threes will separate [two teams.] We didn’t make ours, they made theirs,” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith said after the game.
The Elis carried the hot shooting into Saturday, jumping out to a 52–26 halftime lead on 59.4 percent shooting from the field in a dominant opening period. The 26-point halftime advantage was the largest of the season for the Bulldogs, surpassing a 19-point lead over Division III Daniel Webster on Jan. 8.
Though the Big Red’s swarming full-court pressure initially disrupted the Elis, who turned the ball over more than five times in the game’s first eight minutes, the team eventually settled down.
“We were pretty much getting anything once we broke their press,” Mason said. “We were just trying to move the ball and whoever took the shot would knock it down so we were not trying to force anything.”
Yale particularly took advantage down low against Cornell. The Bulldogs significantly outsized the Big Red, which utilized four-guard lineups for multiple stretches of the game. Cornell’s double-teams in the paint opened up the perimeter for the Elis, who made 12 shots from deep — the third consecutive game in which Yale has made more than 10 three-pointers.
With a commanding early lead, the Bulldogs were able to methodically progress through their offensive sets and find the open man.
“When you share the ball and have 30 made shots and 21 of them are assisted and each one of your starters have at least three assists, that is just a great game where guys are looking for each other and that really shows the unselfishness we have on this team,” Jones said.
The Bulldogs controlled the glass throughout the contest, outrebounding the Big Red 56–22, while also scoring 32 points in the paint, as compared to 19 from Cornell. The 56 rebounds was a season-high, as was the plus-34 rebounding margin.
In both games this weekend, Victor led all Bulldogs in rebounds, with nine in each contest. Offensive rebounding, a category in which Yale ranks third nationally, remained a strength of Yale’s: Of the team’s 34 off-target shots on Saturday, the Bulldogs rebounded 20 of them.
Yale now possesses the second-best rebounding margin in the country, according to NCAA statistics, outrebounding its opponents by 12.4 boards on average.
Though the two leading scorers in the Ivy League are on Cornell’s roster, Yale effectively neutralized the dynamic guards, Robert Hatter and Matt Morgan. Hatter, a junior and league’s top scorer at 18.7 points per game, made just one of his nine attempts from the field to finish with two points.
Morgan, a highly touted freshman, was the lone Cornell player to crack double-digits, finishing the evening with 20 points on 7–16 shooting from the field and 5–10 from deep.
Encouragingly, the Bulldogs, who entered the weekend ranked sixth in the league in free-throw percentage at 63.9 percent, shot above 75 percent in both games. Jones noted that several players spent extra time working on their foul shots the week before.
Next week, the Bulldogs head out of town after four consecutive home games, first to visit Dartmouth on Friday, then to play Harvard on Saturday.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in Hanover, where Yale lost in its season finale last year, missing out on sole possession of the Ivy League championship and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
Correction, Feb. 9: A previous version of this article misstated the first name of Columbia men’s basketball head coach Kyle Smith.