The Yale men’s basketball team certainly had some weak moments in the closing stretch of last night’s matchup against Bryant, but the Elis ultimately proved too prepared for the Bulldogs from Rhode Island.
Despite five missed free throws in the closing 80 seconds that could have put the game well out of reach, Yale outlasted Bryant by a final tally of 67–60 on Bryant’s home court.
Perhaps the late misses from the line can be attributed to tired legs, as the Elis (7–2, 0–0 Ivy) are off to their best start since the 2011–12 campaign despite being tied with four other schools in all of Division I for the most games played thus far. Regardless, the leadership from the upperclassmen showed down the stretch as the Bulldogs were able to seal the win.
“Down the stretch, we were able to stay composed and poised and pull out the win, and a lot of that is due to our veteran leadership,” guard Javier Duren ’15 said. “I think it will continue to be an advantage for us every night.”
The victory avenges a tight loss to Bryant (1–4, 0–0 NEC) a year ago, a game in which Yale’s opponent swung the momentum with a run to open the second half, leaving a bitter taste.
Last night, however, it was Yale who took control after intermission.
“[We had] a sense of urgency,” forward Justin Sears ’16 said. “We still remember last year when we played them, we were up by four points. They went on a 15–4 last year to close the game, so we didn’t a repeat of that.”
Buoyed by a five-point advantage at the half, Sears and forward Matt Townsend ’15 combined to score Yale’s first 11 points in the second period, including a 9–0 run that stretched the lead to double figures for the first time in the game.
A three-pointer by captain and forward Greg Kelley ’15 with 11:19 to play in the game extended Yale’s edge to a game-high 17 points.
“The beginning of the second half has been very important in many games this year because we settle down, learn from mistakes in the first half and, lastly, come out with a lot of energy,” guard Jack Montague ’16 said. “The coaches motivate us to either push out a lead or come back strong, and all of the guys have responded well. It also seems like the team has gotten out in transition a lot in the early period of the second half as well, which is very important in ball games.”
A young, but talented Bryant squad showed fight following Kelley’s triple, rattling off eight straight points to cut the lead to single digits. Five of those points were attributed to guard Dyami Starks, who followed up an impressive 22-point performance in last year’s meeting with 23 points at home.
Starks had little support, however, as just one other Bryant player, guard Zach Chionuma, managed to register double digits. Chionuma’s 11 points were anything but efficient, as it required 13 field goal attempts for the junior, including a paltry 2–8 from three-point range.
Yale, on the other hand, demonstrated near perfect balance offensively. Four of Yale’s five starters cracked double figures, with Townsend and Montague each racking up 11 points to supplement 15 points apiece by Sears and Duren.
“We all believe each and every player can make plays on this team, therefore it leads to balanced scoring,” Montague said. “This even scoring also comes from a balanced attack of a great inside-out game. The guards feed off the posts and vice-versa.”
Despite being Yale’s sole starter to fail to crack 10-point plateau, guard Armani Cotton ’15 was a presence as he snatched a game-high eight rebounds.
While Yale would like to improve upon its free-throw shooting (16-26), the Elis were happy with their performance on the glass as a bunch, outrebounding Bryant by 10.
“We’re a really good rebounding team,” head coach James Jones said. “We did a much better job in the second half. It’s kind of what we hang our hat on, defending and rebounding, and we really did a nice job today.”
Perhaps the most significant statistic for Yale was one Jones has preached for years as being crucial to the team’s success: assist-to-turnover ratio.
Against Bryant, Yale compiled 15 assists to just 10 turnovers, momentarily halting a disturbing trend as of late. Yale entered action last night having turned over the ball more times than they assisted on baskets in four of the last five games. In fact, Yale’s 10 turnovers matches a season low that dates back to the season opener on Nov. 14 at Quinnipiac.
The victory was an important catalyst for a road trip that will only get harder. Yale is back in action tomorrow evening when they take on defending national champion, the University of Connecticut (3–2, 0–0 AAC).
The Bulldogs fell to the Huskies 80–62 last year in Hartford. This year’s meeting will take place at UConn’s campus in Storrs, Connecticut, with tipoff scheduled for 7 p.m.