This season, the Yale men’s basketball team has become known for its prolific offense, which scores an Ivy League-best 68.8 points per game. In particular, the team’s success lies in its ability to rebound the ball and grab offensive boards.
The Bulldogs boast the best rebounding margin in the conference at +5.6 and notch a league-leading 11.7 offensive rebounds per game. The Elis have two of the top 10 rebounders in the league in forward Justin Sears ’16 and guard Armani Cotton ’15, who average 7.4 and 5.5 boards per game, respectively.
“We really push ourselves in practice, chase after the ball, and it’s really just about effort, regardless of your size, just how much determination you have to get the ball,” Cotton said following the team’s Feb. 20 win against Cornell. “It’s the culture of our team at this point, regardless of what size we have … At this point it’s second nature. You just have to go get it.”
The emphasis that the Elis put on rebounding the ball is clear in practice and has translated onto the court. Against Cornell on Friday night, the Bulldogs outrebounded the Big Red 46–26, and Cornell head coach Bill Courtney could only admire the effort with which the Elis attacked the glass, saying that the Elis treat every rebound “like it’s the last possession of [the game].”
It was a different story against Columbia on Saturday night, as the Bulldogs were contained by the Lions and were outrebounded 39–30. The Elis managed just eight offensive rebounds, and Sears and Cotton combined for just eight of their own. Columbia guard Isaac Cohen, officially listed as 6’4” compared to Cotton’s 6’7” and Sears’s 6’8” frames, had nine total rebounds.
“We saw on game tape that we didn’t put enough effort out there,” Sears said. “Columbia outplayed us. We had too much left at the end of the game. We just have to be hungry out there, and stick it to Penn and Princeton this weekend.”
Rebounding, like defense, has been emphasized throughout head coach James Jones’s tenure in New Haven.
On Monday afternoon, the team ran a rebounding drill in practice. The team was split into two squads: One group of five stood outside of the paint while the other group of five rotated in a circle with at least one foot in the key. When one of the coaches sent the ball in the direction of the basket, each player in the key had to box out a member of the other squad so that the group could secure the rebound and possession.
Since the players were rotating in a circle, a guard could end up having to box out a forward, with no excuses accepted for the size disadvantage between the two players.
“We work on rebounding every day,” Jones said during the team’s press conference Friday night. “We have a rebounding drill in practice almost every day, and to be honest with you, this time of year you get a little nervous about rebounding drills because of guys getting injured or hurt … But I throw caution to the wind and make sure that we get some rebounding drills in every day so our guys understand the importance of it.”
The Bulldogs’ success this season has depended on the team’s ability to successfully control the glass. In fact, when the Elis outrebound their opponents, Yale has a record of 16–1. On the other hand, both of the team’s Ivy League losses this year have come with the Bulldogs losing the battle of the boards.
The team will look to continue its dominance down low in Yale’s final home weekend, as Princeton and Penn travel to New Haven on Friday and Saturday.