The Yale men’s basketball team nearly escaped the weekend unscathed, but the Elis found themselves with one more conference loss than they started with and, more importantly, with one more loss than Harvard.
The Bulldogs handled Cornell with relative ease Friday night despite some apparent flaws on the offensive end. On Saturday night, however, Columbia exposed those flaws and took full advantage, toppling Yale from the top of the Ivy League.
For the first time in the 2015 campaign, Yale (19–8, 8–2 Ivy) does not hold at least a share of first place in the Ancient Eight. Harvard (19–5, 9–1) completed a weekend sweep of Penn and Princeton in Cambridge to secure sole possession of first.
“We still are in control of our destiny. We’re one of two teams that have a chance at this thing,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “We got four games to go. You win them all, you’re 12–2 and let sleeping dogs lie where they may.”
Yale’s weekend of home play at the John J. Lee Amphitheater began with an unglamorous display against the Big Red (12–14, 4–6) that nonetheless ended in a comfortable victory. Yale did not shoot spectacularly, making 43.1 percent of its shots from the floor, but the Bulldogs made up for any offensive deficiencies in other parts of the game to secure the 62–51 victory.
Yale posted its best statistical rebounding game of the Ivy season, outrebounding Cornell by 20. The Elis doubled up Cornell in second chance points, largely thanks to 16 offensive rebounds compared to just six for Cornell.
In fact, both forward Justin Sears ’16 and guard Armani Cotton ’15 matched the Big Red on the offensive glass, snatching six offensive rebounds each to lead the physical Yale attack.
“[Jones’s] teams have been good at [physical rebounding] for years now, so you [have] to give them a lot of credit for whatever they do in practice,” Cornell head coach Bill Courtney said. “I think they wear football helmets and pads … and they have players that are good at it. Armani Cotton gets so many timely rebounds, and Justin Sears is always on the offensive glass and is always very physical.”
Yale’s proficiency on the glass made up for 16 Bulldog turnovers, an on-and-off issue with the team all season long, and lackluster shooting from three-point range (5–20) as well as from the charity stripe (13–24).
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, rebounding was not enough to prevent dropping Saturday’s contest to Columbia (13–11, 5–5). The poor shooting and overall disjointed offensive play from the previous night continued, and the Lions managed to keep the Elis off the glass in knocking them off the Ivy throne with a 56–50 upset.
Nearly a month after the teams’ first meeting, in which Yale demonstrated poise in a tight 63–59 road victory, the Lions outrebounded the Bulldogs by nine and limited Yale to just 36.5 percent shooting from the field and 22.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Guards Javier Duren ’15 and Jack Montague ’16, the Ivy League’s leading three-point shooter at 45 percent, combined to shoot 3–15 from deep and 5–27 for the weekend.
From the free-throw line, Yale went just 7–16, including multiple misses on the front ends of one-and-ones. Saturday’s dismal shooting display capped off the worst offensive weekend for the Elis this year in terms of both shooting percentage and scoring.
“I’m not concerned about our offense. We had a bad shooting weekend, [but] everyone does,” Jones said. “It’s almost impossible to [shoot 43 percent from the free throw line]. I might be able to drop kick it in at 43 percent or hit it off my head and knock it in 43 percent [of the time].”
Midway through the first half, three-pointers by Montague and guard Makai Mason ’18 drew Yale even at 14 apiece, but the Elis proceeded to turn the ball over five consecutive times down the court, allowing the Lions to seize control.
Columbia built its largest lead of the game at the 15:41 mark of the second half, when they led 42–26. Over the next 10 minutes, Yale held Columbia to a mere two points but could not complete the comeback.
The Bulldogs clawed their way back to a three-point deficit, 44–41, after a free throw by Duren, and neither team could score for nearly two minutes before Columbia’s Luke Petrasek hit his only basket of the night — a corner three that silenced the 1,936 in attendance. The lead quickly swelled to 10 and the Bulldogs were unable to muster a response.
“Some individual players stepped up at the end. Luke [Petrasek] hit a big shot. I think personally that was huge,” said Columbia guard Maodo Lo, who scored 18 points en route to upping his league-leading scoring average to 17.1 points per game.
The last outing between the two teams saw Lo and Sears, two Ivy League Player of the Year candidates, trade baskets for much of the second half. On Saturday, however, Sears was unable to get into any sort of offensive flow.
Sears finished the evening with just seven points to go along with six rebounds, uninspiring numbers compared to his typical production. Paired with his 12-point outing against Cornell, the forward’s 19 points this weekend was the least productive Ivy weekend for the Plainfield, N.J. native in two years.
Between the play of Sears, the untimely turnovers and the paltry offensive production of the weekend, Yale should hope that it has worked all the kinks out of its system.
With little margin for error remaining in its bid to capture its first Ivy championship since 2002 and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1962, Yale has no choice but to regroup and prepare for its final two home games of the season this weekend when Princeton and Penn come to town.