The men’s basketball team showcased its many weapons during its eight-game holiday stretch with four different leading scorers. Now in the early days of 2015, the Elis closed out the non-conference portion of the schedule with an 11–6 record.
“Everyone knows their spots on the floor where they feel comfortable, and when someone’s in a groove, we’re going to get them the ball,” forward Justin Sears ’16 said. “That’s definitely going to help us out in the Ivy play when it comes to back-to-back games.”
Following a difficult early stretch with 10 games in three weeks, capped by a dramatic win against the defending national champions Connecticut, the Bulldogs (11–6, 0–0 Ivy) faced another test against Florida (9–6, 2–0 Southeastern), falling 85–47 on Dec. 8. The Gators, coming off back-to-back losses, found their stride against the Elis, shooting 63.8 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from behind the arc. Yale, on the other hand, managed just 34 percent shooting, with only Sears scoring in double-digits with 15 points on the night.
The Bulldogs then played in a series of five close games, with no contest decided by more than seven points, including a one-point 57–56 win against Vermont (7–8, 3–0 America East). Following a steal by guard Jack Montague ’16, forward Matt Townsend ’15 provided the heroics, scoring the game-winner with five seconds left on the clock.
“It’s a lot of fun to be in that position to decide the game and in your team’s favor,” Townsend said. “The team has had a bunch more of those game-winners, but for me that shot definitely ranks near the top for my most exciting shots.”
Montague led the Elis with 12 points against the Catamounts, and four other players added eight points or more to aid the Bulldogs’ balanced attack.
With only a couple of days to rest, Yale then fell short against Albany (8–7, 3–0 America East), dropping a close contest 64–60. The Elis were able to get back on the right track against Sacred Heart (7–10, 1–3 Northeast), as three players scored in double figures, including guard Javier Duren ’15, who led all scorers with 22 points. The Bulldogs’ ability to move the ball and create good looks resulted in 16 assists and 47.8 percent shooting. With 9:18 remaining in the first half, Sears also notched his 1,000th career point for Yale, the 26th player to do so in school history.
“It’s a nice accolade,” Sears said. “Yale has had some good players and it’s nice to be included on the list, but a lot of the success comes back to the coaches working with me and my teammates being supportive.”
The Elis put up another admirable performance against Vanderbilt (11–4, 1–1 Southeastern), coming up just short in double overtime, 79–74. The two teams seemed to be evenly matched, but Yale committed five more turnovers than the Commodores. Four players scored in double figures for the Bulldogs, who executed well against Vanderbilt’s half-court defense, and the experience will prove valuable during conference play.
Yale is not the only team with a signature win this season, as the New Jersey Institute of Technology (9–9) defeated Michigan 72–70 on Dec. 6. When the Elis faced NJIT, they played most of the game without Sears, who suffered an injury early in the first half, and could not overcome this loss, losing 78–71. Three players scored in double digits, with Duren tallying 21. Guard Makai Mason ’18 added a career-high 17 points off the bench and forward Greg Kelley ’15 stepped up in place of Sears to score 16.
“The story pretty much all season has been our depth,” Duren said. “It shows how dangerous of a team we can be because it’s really hard to guard a team that can have four or five guys in double figures.”
The Bulldogs closed its non-conference schedule on a high note, dismantling division three opponent Daniel Webster (3–6, 0–1 New England Collegiate) 102–47. Again without Sears, six players scored in double figures, with Kelley the leading scorer, totaling 14 points. As the Elis emptied the bench, 12 of the 13 players who entered the game scored.
Ironically enough, it was Duren, the team’s leading scorer at 13.1 points per game, who was the sole Bulldog to play who did not register any points. The point guard did rack up five assists with no turnovers in limited action.
“Those types of games are really good because it gives the guys who don’t really get a chance to play a lot an opportunity to play,” Duren said. “They have a better feeling of being a part of the team so it’s good to finish on that note for our non-conference schedule.”
With the most overall wins in school history prior to its conference schedule, the team has built momentum and will face Brown in Providence on Saturday at 2 p.m.