There is a lot riding on this weekend for the men’s basketball team.
For one thing, it is a chance to get to .500 in the league. A couple of wins this weekend will even the Bulldogs’ conference record at 3-3 and put them back in the thick of the race for the conference title.
For another, some serious bragging rights are on the line.
Tonight’s game against Columbia at the John J. Lee Amphitheater features the first of two meetings this year between Yale head coach James Jones and his younger brother, Joe Jones, who is in his first year steering Columbia’s program.
James and Joe Jones grew up playing basketball together at Half Hollow Hills West High School in Dix Hills, N.Y. Many of their high school teammates, as well as friends and relatives, will be in attendance tonight.
Despite the hype, the two coaches have tried to remain focused on the task at hand.
“I haven’t really given it a lot of thought,” James Jones said of competing against his brother. “We have to play the best we can — I’m concentrating more on that.”
Joe James echoed his brother’s sentiments.
“I think once I get [to Yale] and the game starts, emotions will get high,” Joe Jones said. “But it’s important for me to stay focused and look at the game from the standpoint that it’s against Yale and not against my brother.”
Sibling storylines aside, Friday’s game should be a good one. Both Yale (6-11, 1-3 Ivy) and Columbia (6-11, 2-2) come into this weekend while they are playing some of their best basketball of the season.
The Bulldogs showed why they are title contenders last weekend with a gritty win over Penn (7-8, 0-2) before narrowly falling to Princeton (9-6, 2-0).
“We have to continue our play from last weekend and keep up the intensity,” guard Edwin Draughan ’05 said. “Columbia doesn’t have one guy that’s going to kill you, but we have to play hard on defense and make sure they don’t get open shots.”
The Lions, who have already tripled their win total from last year, are not expected to make a run at the crown this year, but have been impressive of late. Last weekend, they snapped their 19-game league losing streak in convincing fashion, sweeping a road weekend at Dartmouth (3-15, 1-3) and Harvard (2-15, 1-3).
“We’re feeling good,” Joe Jones said. “Our guys have had a lot of work to do. We still have a lot to do. We’re not there. We haven’t arrived yet.”
One team that has arrived is Cornell (9-8, 4-0). The Bulldogs take on Ka’Ron Barnes and the first-place Big Red Saturday night Barnes, the league-leader in scoring (20.8 ppg), assists (5.6 per game) and steals (2.3 per game), has guided the Big Red to a 4-0 start in the Ancient Eight.
Cornell also boasts the conference’s second leading scorer in Cody Toppert (17.9 ppg), but the key for the Bulldogs will be containing Barnes.
“Defense and being tough are important for us,” James Jones said. “Ka’Ron likes to take a lot of shots in transition. We have to make sure he doesn’t get those looks.”
This weekend will be the first real Ivy test for the Big Red, whose wins have all come against the league’s bottom-dwellers, including Harvard and Dartmouth.
“Cornell’s a good team,” Draughan said. “We have to play as hard as we can if we want to beat them. We haven’t discussed the game plan for Cornell yet. Right now, we’re preparing for Columbia. We’re taking it one game at a time.”
Starting the season 1-3 has put the Elis in a precarious situation. If they entertain thoughts of winning the Ivy title, they will likely have to win the rest of their games.
“We really don’t have a margin for error,” Jones said. “We have to win out or come real close to it.”
News and Notes: The Joneses are one of three pairs of brothers currently coaching in Division-I basketball. Dennis and Dickey Nutt are head coaches at Southwest Texas State and Arkansas State while Bill and Tom Herrion head the programs at East Carolina and the College of Charleston.
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