The quest for a conference title begins tonight for the men’s basketball team as it opens the season against Quinnipiac in a showdown between local rivals.
Yale (0–0, 0–0 Ivy) looks to start its campaign on a high note against the Bobcats (0–0, 0–0 Metro Athletic) in the Connecticut 6 Classic, hosted this year on Quinnipiac’s home court. The Elis enter the season with high expectations following their run to the championship game of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The Bulldogs gained confidence from their deep postseason run and will look to carry the momentum from last season’s success into this season.
“The CollegeInsider[.com] Tournament was tremendous for us,” head coach James Jones said. “We got healthy, and we played really, really well together. It gives us a great deal of confidence as a group to know that we can win close games because we have. And going forward, knowing that if we put our heads together and continue to play as a team, that we can accomplish a great many things.”
Statistically, Quinnipiac looks to have an edge after averaging 78.8 points per game on 42.4 percent shooting last season, compared to the Bulldogs’ 66.9 points per game on 41.8 percent shooting. The Bobcats also hold a 5–1 record historically against the Elis.
That said, Yale’s neighbor does not return the same team from its 20-win season. Quinnipiac lost two of its top three scorers from a year ago, including forward Ike Azotam, who averaged a double-double last season with 16.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
The last meeting between the two teams came in last year’s CIT. In a tightly contested first round matchup, the Bulldogs narrowly defeated Quinnipiac 69–68 on a buzzer beating three-pointer by forward Justin Sears ’16, ending the Bobcats’ season.
Sears not only scored the game-winner, but also brought down eight rebounds and added five assists against Quinnipiac in last year’s contest — a performance that propelled the 6–8 forward to a strong showing in the CIT and cemented his status as an Ivy League Player of the Year candidate this season.
Joining Sears in the frontcourt will be forward Matt Townsend ’15, who found success against the Bobcats last season, scoring 12 points on 5–7 shooting. The projected starting lineup also features swingman Armani Cotton ’15, who added seven points and eight rebounds against the crosstown rival, and point guard Javier Duren ’15, who led all Yale scorers with 17 points against the Bobcats. Guard Jack Montague ’16, who scored nine points off the bench in that game, rounds out the starting backcourt.
“We just have to treat it like another game,” Duren said. “No matter how many times we have played them in the past, we can’t rely on our past successes or our past fails. We look to the future and what’s coming ahead of us … We need to stick to our game plan no matter who the opponent is.”
Familiarity with the Bobcats has also allowed the Elis to focus on certain aspects of the game during practice this week.
Quinnipiac was the top Division I rebounding team last season, averaging 16.8 offensive and 28.6 defensive boards per game. The Bulldogs will need to keep Quinnipiac off the glass to limit their second chance opportunities.
“[The Bobcats] always pride themselves on their rebounding abilities,” Townsend said. “We’ve been working on rebounding, boxing out and dominating the paint. They also play a physical style of basketball, so being able to handle a crash and a little bit of pressure is another focus. But mostly, we’re just trying to focus on our game, moving the ball and making sure we’re working with each other.”
Quinnipiac featured two players in the top 15 in rebounding in the nation last year. One of them, forward Ousmane Drame, returns after averaging 10.3 rebounds per game.
Duren concurred, noting that keeping the Bobcats off the glass will certainly be one of the keys to the game. He added that the team will need a fast start to set the pace and tone to be successful.
“Both teams are going to come out with a lot of energy, and I think that if we play the way I know we can play, I like our chances,” Duren said.
The Bulldogs’ season tips off against Quinnipiac on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in nearby Hamden, Conn. within the confines of the TD Bank Sports Center.