Though anything can happen in the competitive Ivy League, for the time being the Yale men’s basketball team sits tied with Harvard atop the conference standings thanks to a pair of huge road wins over Dartmouth and the aforementioned Crimson this weekend.
The back-to-back got off to a fantastic start for the Bulldogs, as Yale (11–9, 5–1 Ivy) played near flawless basketball, taking down Dartmouth (9–11, 2–4) with a final score of 67–54.
Led by forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 and his team-high 15 points, the Bulldogs not only stifled Dartmouth throughout, but they also secured head coach James Jones’ 200th career victory.
The milestone puts Jones in select company, as he is only the second coach to achieve at least 200 wins in Yale history, and just the fourth coach with as many wins in the history of the Ivy League.
“I thank all of my guys that have played for me that have made it possible,” Jones said.
Behind Sherrod, a balanced offensive effort for the Elis saw six others contribute with at least five points. Yale shot superbly for the night, hitting on 52.5 percent of its shots while Dartmouth shot below 30 percent.
Dartmouth did not even convert a field goal until nearly eight minutes into the game.
Although the victory at Dartmouth was a positive for the Bulldogs, the luster of the weekend would have been dramatically diminished if they had not sealed the deal against three-time defending Ivy champion, Harvard (18–4, 5–1).
Yale entered Harvard’s hostile Lavietes Pavilion, where home-court advantage was true in every sense of the term. The arena was packed to the rafters with a rowdy sell-out crowd eager to see Harvard’s 21st straight home win, the student section was bolstered by Harvard’s football team, which wore its jerseys to the game. And, perhaps most critically, the referees made some questionable calls in favor of the hosts.
In spite the many factors working against them, the Bulldogs simply outworked the Crimson. Yale built upon Friday night’s win with an even better performance on Saturday night, stunning Harvard 74–67 in a playoff-like atmosphere.
Despite some communication miscues and a couple of costly fouls on three-point attempts in the first 20 minutes, Jones could not have scripted a better first half for the Elis against the Crimson.
Yale took a 39–35 advantage into the locker room behind defensive intensity and patient offense. The Bulldogs, who have struggled from the field for much of the season, shot 56.5 percent, while the Crimson shot just 39.3 percent.
“I thought they were outstanding … they were physical … tough in the paint,” said Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker. “They were clearly the better team and deserved to win the game tonight.”
Guard Javier Duren ’15 and forward Justin Sears ’16 combined for 19 first-half points, despite Duren being forced to sit out a considerable amount of time due to two early fouls. Forward Nick Victor ’15 also picked up two fouls and had to sit, but not before he exploited a mismatch against Harvard guard Siyani Chambers in the paint for a pair of inside baskets.
The second half started off just as well for the Bulldogs in front of the antsy Crimson faithful. The Elis widened the gap with a 6–0 run that put them ahead by 10, but foul trouble reared its ugly head once more.
In a minute’s time, Victor picked up two additional fouls and Duren committed another one of his own, forcing both to return to the bench. Yale’s depth has been a point of pride for Jones all season long, and he received some validation Saturday night.
“[Guard] Jack Montague [’16] was really key and he’s playing with a great deal of confidence now,” Jones said. “We expect to get contributions from everybody … it’s hard to get contributions from your bench on the road, and we’re fortunate that we did it tonight.”
The bench left its footprint on the game as Sherrod, Montague and guard Jesse Pritchard ’14 each played extended minutes and contributed high-performance plays under high pressure.
The Crimson, who entered as 12.5-point favorites, did not simply throw in the towel after falling behind by 10. Harvard mounted run after run, cutting the deficit to as few as three points with 8:17 to go.
But whenever the momentum seemed to be firmly in Harvard’s favor, Yale managed to extinguish the rallies with clutch three-pointers from guard Armani Cotton ’15 and forward Greg Kelley ’15.
A rim-rattling slam from Sears put Yale ahead by 11, its largest lead of the game, with just 4:02 remaining.
“There were a million times where we thought we had it and Harvard kept coming back, but we stayed composed and stayed focused,” Sears said.
At that point, a Yale victory was going to be a simple matter of making free throws.
The Bulldogs did just that, hitting on 10 of 12 from the line in the final 1:14 to cap off the upset. Sears alone was 6–6 during that stretch, propelling himself to a game-high 21 points in addition to 10 rebounds — numbers that will increase the buzz regarding his chances for Ivy League Player of the Year. Amaker himself called Sears a “monster.”
Cotton registered a double-double of his own, with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Duren also managed to have a productive scoring day, compiling 15 points in just 22 minutes of action.
With two weekend sweeps in its rearview mirror, Yale now holds the pole position in the Ivy League, but the players understand that they will be getting each team’s best shot.
“We have the target on our backs now,” Sears said. “We control our own destiny, so we’re just going to go out and play each game tough.”
Another slate of back-to-back games will take place this weekend for the Elis, but this time at the friendly confines of John J. Lee Amphitheater, where they will host Penn (6–13, 3–2) and Princeton (13–6, 1–4).