In a matchup of two teams with Bulldog mascots, the Yale men’s basketball team will make the road trip to Rhode Island this evening to take on Bryant University.
Each squad hopes to kick off its December schedule with a victory — Yale (6–2, 0–0 Ivy) hopes to build upon its 0.750 winning percentage in November whereas Bryant (1–3, 0–0 Northeast) hopes to put its 1–3 record in the rearview mirror. For the Elis, Bryant is a crucial first step in a set of away games that includes defending national champion Connecticut on Friday and Final Four participant Florida next Monday.
“Personally I haven’t really thought about UConn or Florida as much as I have academics,” point guard Javier Duren ’15 said. “We do a great job of focusing on one game at a time, so [we did] a good job of preparing for Bryant, and hopefully come out with a win to get ready for those two games.”
The Elis have narrowly missed a perfect start to their season, with their two losses coming from a combined margin of nine points.
With its best opening to a season in three years, Yale is seeking revenge after falling to Bryant last December at John J. Lee Amphitheater by a final score of 72–64.
That matchup swung at the beginning of the second half, when a four-point Yale advantage at the intermission was erased by a 15–4 Bryant run. The key orchestrator of Bryant’s strong second half, guard Dyami Starks, returns as a dynamic scoring threat at 18.8 points per game with the ability to score from distance — he boasts a 4.0 three-point field goals made per game average.
Still, Starks is just one of three Bryant upperclassmen to be averaging more than 20 minutes of playing time per game. Yale, on the other hand, has five upperclassmen averaging more than 25 minutes per game.
That discrepancy in experience is even more noticeable in the frontcourt — Bryant does not have a single upperclassman at the forward or center positions, whereas Yale is able to start the veteran duo of forwards Justin Sears ’16 and Matt Townsend ’15.
“We pride ourselves on being a deep team, both in terms of having lots of weapons and lots of experienced players,” Townsend said. “We always try to assert ourselves in the post — guys joke about aiming to be ‘dictators’ in the paint — but especially against younger opponents who might be less adjusted to the college game.”
Yale’s shortcoming in last year’s Bryant loss did not come from play in the paint, but rather at the perimeter. Yale struggled from beyond the arc, knocking down just three of 21 attempts from deep, while this year’s roster sports five players shooting at least 35 percent on threes. Leading that group is guard Jack Montague ’16, who ranks first in the Ivy League and 19th in the nation for his precision from outside the arc at 55 percent.
Besides Montague, Duren and Sears, each averaging about 14 points a game, have been driving the offense.
Duren led the team across the board in last year’s meeting, leading Yale in points with 17, rebounds with six, assists with three and steals with three. But he received little help from his teammates. Sears had entered the game averaging close to 18 points per game but was limited to 10 due to foul trouble.
Foul trouble also plagued Sears in Yale’s most recent loss, against then-No. 25 Providence, where a couple of first-half fouls sent him to the bench and disrupted his rhythm. He ended that night with just seven points, his lowest total when having played more than 20 minutes since last February at Dartmouth.
Despite the frustration of being forced to sit due to foul trouble, Sears said that he cannot afford to direct his focus towards the referees’ whistles.
“I’m just going to let it play out,” Sears said. “I have had a tough whistle the past two games and it has been because of offensive fouls. I just need to not let the fear of foul trouble get to me and to play my game.”
Offensive metrics aside, Yale’s defense may be the best indicator for success. Opponents are shooting just 40 percent from the field against the Elis, three percentage points down from last year through the first eight games.
Sixty, however, will be the number to watch. When Yale allows 60 or fewer points, the team is 6–0 this season and 12–1 dating back to last year. On the flip side, when Bryant scores 60 or fewer points, the team is 0–2 this year and 1–7 dating back to last year’s campaign.
A smash-mouth, low-scoring game should favor the Elis in rebounds as well. They enter with a +8.2 rebounding margin as opposed to Bryant’s -7.5 margin on the glass.
Tonight’s tipoff from Chace Athletic Center is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.