The Yale men’s basketball team passed the halfway point of the Ivy League season this weekend, and it kept pace with Harvard atop the standings thanks to a sweep of Penn and Princeton on the road.
Yale (18–7, 7–1 Ivy) saw its offense come alive again this weekend, finishing off a perfect weekend by dismantling Penn (7–14, 2–5) on Friday night and by surviving against Princeton (11–12, 4–3) Saturday night.
Against the Quakers, the Bulldogs shot 54.0 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from behind the arc to win 75–48. The Elis were hot against the Tigers as well, shooting 58.3 percent from the floor and 46.2 percent from long range on their way to an 81–73 victory.
“This week at practice, our coaches emphasized moving the ball and trusting one another on the court,” forward Matt Townsend ’15 said. “We took a step forward with that against Penn and Princeton, and it showed in the box score. We have a lot of different weapons, so when we play together we’re a tough team to beat.”
At the Palestra, Penn’s home arena and one of the most legendary venues in college basketball, the Quakers kept Yale within reach early, as guard Tony Hicks scored seven points in the first 8:04 to give the Quakers a 10–8 lead. However, the Bulldogs stormed back with a 16–2 run over the next five and a half minutes and headed to the locker room at halftime leading 38–23.
The Elis refused to let up in the second half, extending their lead to 31 just over eight minutes into the period. In a balanced attack from Yale, three players scored in double figures, with guard Makai Mason ’18 leading the way with 14. Nine different players scored, and forward Justin Sears ’16 led the team with six assists and five blocks.
Saturday’s contest against Princeton started similarly, as Yale jumped out to an early 11–0 lead. But though the Tigers failed to convert their first nine shots of the night, the win would not come as easily as it had the night before. At the half, the Bulldogs continued to hold an 11-point advantage, leading 39–28.
After the intermission, however, Princeton’s shots from behind the arc started to fall, spurring the Tigers to a 21–4 run and a six-point advantage.
“I think that Princeton is a bit of a better offensive team than Penn, and [the Tigers] switched defenses and we didn’t crack their 1–3–1 that well,” head coach James Jones said. “That gave them opportunities offensively that cut into our lead … We had some opportunities at the basket that we didn’t finish, and that hurt us a little bit, and we turned it over a couple of times.”
With 10:35 remaining in the game, the Elis trailed by eight points, but the veteran Yale team refused to panic. The Bulldogs started their own 16–6 run that helped the team regain the lead for good with six minutes to play. Princeton would get no closer than two points the rest of the way.
As the clock ticked down, it was the team’s defense that helped Yale secure the win, as steals by point guard Javier Duren ’15, Sears and Mason helped the Elis to an eight-point lead with less than a minute to play.
“Princeton is the second-most efficient offensive Ivy team, so we knew they were dangerous,” Townsend said. “[Forward Henry] Caruso had a monster game and there was a stretch in the second half when it seemed like [the Tigers] couldn’t miss a three-pointer, but at the end of the game our defense dug in to get stops, and that’s what drove our second-half comeback.”
Even though Caruso had a big game for the Tigers, finishing with 25 points and four rebounds, Sears had an even more impressive night. The forward from Plainfield, N.J., notched 25 points to go along with nine rebounds, just missing a double-double. He shot 8–11 from the field and 9–11 from the free-throw line, pushing his free throw percentage on the season to 68.0 percent.
Sears was one of five players who scored in double digits for the efficient Elis. Townsend added 13 points on 6–8 shooting, Duren scored 12 — with six points coming from the charity stripe in the final 36 seconds — and Mason and shooting guard Jack Montague ’16 each added 11, the former hitting 5–5 from the floor.
“The Harvard game was a tough loss since we did some good things and we did some bad things primarily on the offensive end,” Sears said. “We’re making sure that we’re moving the ball more, and on my part just being more engaged and not disappearing in the second half. Everyone has done a good job this year of putting the weekend behind us and focusing on these two games.”
The rest of the way, the Bulldogs will now be facing each team in the Ivy League, excluding Brown, for a second time. This weekend, the Elis will welcome Cornell and Columbia to John J. Lee Amphitheater for round two of the 14-game tournament, with tip-off at 7 p.m. both nights.