The Yale men’s basketball team will seek to maintain its unblemished home record on Saturday, when the Bulldogs host a balanced Vermont team in John J. Lee Amphitheater.
The Elis (4–3, 0–0 Ivy) snapped a three-game losing streak Wednesday night with a sound 79–40 victory over Bryant. Forward Sam Downey ’17 and guard Nick Victor ’16 got Yale off to a quick start, while point guard Makai Mason ’18 scored 13 points in the second half to put the game well out of Bryant’s reach. But to extend its modest 2–0 home start, Yale will have to deal with a Vermont (4–4, 0–0 America East) squad that has toppled the Bulldogs in five of the past seven seasons.
“It is great to start the season out strong at home,” captain and shooting guard Jack Montague ’16 said. “Vermont is a team that has caused problems for us in the past few seasons that I have been here. They are always a tough and physical team that takes us to the wire, literally.”
Perhaps the closest contest in the 26-game history of these two schools came last season when forward Matt Townsend ’15, with five seconds left in the game, inched the Bulldogs ahead 57–56 with a jumper from the top of the key that gave Yale its first win in Burlington, Vermont since 1986.
As for this season, late-game heroics have been less of a storyline, as only one Yale game has been decided by single digits. Each of the team’s three losses have occurred on the road — the Bulldogs were defeated by SMU, Duke and Albany during a 10-day road trip over Thanksgiving break. On the other hand, with the rout of Bryant and a 99–77 defeat of Sacred Heart on Nov. 16, the Elis have an average margin of victory of 30.5 points at home this season.
Forward Justin Sears ’16 did not play in Sunday’s 88–54 loss to Albany, and he missed his second consecutive start due to illness on Wednesday, though the Plainfield, New Jersey native did manage 21 minutes against Bryant, notching nine points and seven rebounds in the victory.
“I think for me the big thing this year is not scoring but getting everyone else involved on the floor offensively,” said Sears, who also dished out three assists. “[Mason] and I draw a lot of attention on the floor and it makes our lives easier when guys like [Montague], [forward Brandon Sherrod ’16], [Victor], et cetera get easy baskets off cuts, dump-offs and spot-up shots.”
In Sears’ place, Downey started against Bryant and took advantage of the increased minutes, leading the team with 14 points during the first period before finishing with a season-high 16. The Bulldogs will need Downey to provide quality minutes on Saturday as well, with or without Sears at 100 percent, against a deep bench for the Catamounts. Heading Vermont’s bench production has been guard Cam Ward, who is averaging 7.6 points per game, and the bench as a whole has added 18.1 points per game, as compared to 14.3 points per game for Yale’s reserves.
The bench has been an area of weakness for the Elis this season, as head coach James Jones continues to attempt to find the right mix of players to provide a lift. While he agreed that last night’s performance by Downey may be a breakout performance for the 6-foot-9 forward, he is only averaging 5.4 points per game in 2015–16 and just 3.4 points a contest when coming off the bench, second-most behind guard Khaliq Ghani’s ’16 3.7 points per game.
“You hope that he is able to come in and give you a punch,” Jones said of Downey following Wednesday’s performance. “One thing that this team is in dire need of is to have good bench play with guys coming off the bench and contributing. We have been trying to work through some guys over the course of season thus far, and we have eight more opportunities [before the Ivy League season begins] to find guys that can help us, and we certainly think that [Downey] can be one of those guys.”
Fellow reserves Ghani, guard Anthony Dallier ’17, forward Eric Anderson ’18 and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 have also vied for increased playing time.
The matchup against Vermont will also be crucial for Montague and Sherrod, both of whom are looking to get back on track after poor shooting performances against Bryant. Sherrod was 0–4 from the field with only two points from the free-throw line, while Montague was held scoreless, including an 0–6 clip from behind the arc. It was the first time all season that the captain failed to knock down at least one three-pointer in a game.
“For me, I just have to keep shooting,” Montague said. “It is as simple as that. I can’t let these past two games get to my head, and I will continue to stay confident in my shooting.”
The senior guard had connected on 50 percent of his shots from long range entering Wednesday’s contest, and has made 20 of 46 threes on the season, the most on the team and third-most in the Ivy League.
On the defensive end, Yale will have to contend with a multi-faceted Vermont attack. Four Catamounts are averaging more than 10 points per game, led by guard Trae Bell-Haynes, who is averaging 13.6 points per contest. The Ontario native has scored 15 points or more in five of the team’s eight games, highlighted by a season-high 28 points against Niagara University on Nov. 21 in an 85–67 victory.
The Catamounts are looking to knock off their second consecutive Ivy League opponent in this weekend’s action after defeating Dartmouth 68–63 on Wednesday.
Saturday’s matinee tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. as Yale goes for its fifth win in seven home games against Vermont.
Correction, Dec. 5: A previous version of this article misstated the final score of the game between Vermont and Dartmouth.