On a night when forward Justin Sears ’16 was limited due to illness and the Bulldogs went cold from behind the arc, the Yale men’s basketball team turned to a pair of unexpected contributors – guard Nick Victor ’16 and forward Sam Downey ’17 – for a lopsided victory over Bryant that kept Yale perfect at home this season.
In the battle of Bulldogs, Yale (4–3, 0–0 Ivy) defeated Bryant (2–6, 0–0 NEC) by a final score of 79–40, the Elis’ largest margin of victory since a 102–47 win over Daniel Webster on Jan. 10 of last season. Victor scored a season-high 14 points to go along with eight rebounds, while Downey tallied 16 points, also a season high, and hauled in seven boards.
“[Victor and Downey] were terrific,” head coach James Jones said. “I have been urging [Downey] to be stronger and take the ball up to the rim to take advantage of his size and strength. I thought he got to the point where he did that tonight. I also cannot stress how important [Victor’s] energy, movement and actions are. It is special when you have somebody [like Victor] who can change the whole momentum of the game.”
The decisive win marked a return to form for the Elis after a three-game losing streak, which included impressive performances against SMU and Duke but also a disappointing 88–54 loss at Albany on Sunday.
Although Sears did not start for the second game in a row, the forward played 21 minutes in the game. He did not make his presence felt in his typical fashion in the early going, remaining scoreless midway through the first half, when he knocked down a jump shot near the free throw line to put himself into the scoring column. Sears finished the first half with just four points, though he did lead the team with five rebounds and assisted on three buckets.
“The biggest thing is that he has not practiced in a couple days so he was not real sharp,” Jones said of his forward, who was averaging 16.6 points per game entering the contest. “He has not played since the Duke game. It has been a week, which is a long time. He got some shots up yesterday but he has not practiced.”
Making his second career start in Sears’ forward position, Downey was a perfect 5–5 from the field in the first half and led all scorers with 14 points by halftime.
Many of Downey’s attempts came right at the basket, as the 6’9” forward capitalized on playing against a depleted Bryant frontline.
“I had a lot of wide open layups because our guards are great shooters and they draw a lot of attention so there were a lot of openings down low,” Downey said.
Victor and Downey took control of Yale’s offense right from the start, combining for the first 14 Eli points in the game. Victor made momentum-changing plays at both ends of the court, highlighted by an impressive sequence less than five minutes into the game. Initiated by a chase-down block of a Hunter Ware layup attempt on a fast break, Victor sprinted back to collect an offensive rebound and finish at the rim.
“I like to pride myself on effort,” Victor said. “One of the blocks was after I airballed a shot, so I kind of thought it was my fault and I needed to get back. I like to be the guy that people can rely on and I like to be on the help side.”
The Dallas native later knocked down a triple from the corner with 3:39 left in the half to increase the Yale lead to 29–22. The basket was Yale’s only three-pointer in the first half, as both Bulldog teams had trouble scoring from long distance in the opening period. Bryant made only three of 14 three-point attempts, while Yale made just one of 10.
Captain and shooting guard Jack Montague ’16, who had made at least one three-pointer in every game this season and entered Wednesday night shooting 50 percent from deep, finished the game 0–6 from three-point range. He was held scoreless in the contest, marking the second consecutive game in which Montague has shot cold from the floor. Against Albany on Sunday, he was 1–5 from the field with three points.
And despite a first half in which Yale’s top four leading scorers of the season — point guard Makai Mason ’18, forward Brandon Sherrod ’16, Sears and Montague — combined for just eight points on 2–14 shooting, the Elis still carried a comfortable 36–24 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, lockdown defense and a strong 10-point effort from Mason, including a four-point play to open Yale’s scoring in the period, put the game out of reach.
Mason finished the contest with a game-high 17 points, including a 4–5 shooting clip in the second half.
Mason was only six points away from outscoring the entire Bryant team in the second half by himself. Bryant made five of 22 shot attempts for a 22.7 shooting percentage from the field in the final 20 minutes. Dan Garvin, an All-Northeast Conference second-team selection a year ago, paced Bryant with nine points in the game, while three others contributed seven points each on a night in which the visiting Bulldogs were troubled by the stingy Yale defense. Bryant also committed 13 turnovers compared to Yale’s seven.
“We had great defensive rotations. I thought we had great second and third efforts to stop their scorers,” Jones said. “Tonight, our guys were sharper and they came out after getting beaten by Albany in a bad way, and I thought that our guys responded.”
Yale responded despite having its reigning Ivy League Player of the Year at less than full strength. Sears ended up finishing the night with nine points.
With a lead that swelled to as many as 40 points late in the second half, Jones elected to get his freshmen some valuable minutes on the court. Forward Blake Reynolds ’19, who has been the go-to freshman in Jones’ arsenal thus far this season, scored four points to go along with four rebounds, while guard Alex Copeland ’19 drove into the lane and finished a layup to score the first points of his Yale career.
With the Ivy League portion of Yale’s schedule still eight games away, Bryant has now suffered lopsided defeats at the hands of two Ancient Eight schools. Bryant fell to Harvard 80–45 in a Nov. 25 rout.
The Elis will be back in front of the Yale faithful once again on Saturday when they take on Vermont. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. at John J. Lee Amphitheater.