In the Yale men’s basketball team’s final game before winter break commences, the team’s stars have a chance to shine in Los Angeles.
The Bulldogs (5–4, 0–0 Ivy) are in search of a noteworthy victory over the Trojans of Southern California (7–2, 0–0 Pac-12) at the Galen Center. Besides the opportunity to knock off a USC program that has produced six current NBA players, Yale will also look to improve upon its 1–4 record on the road.
“We’re ready for this challenge,” forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 said.
It will be the first game back for Yale since dropping a 69–65 decision to Illinois on Wednesday, when the Bulldogs surrendered 23 costly turnovers.
Following the loss, head coach James Jones acknowledged that his team must take better care of the ball moving forward.
“We were a bit frantic at the end [against Illinois], some tough calls and shots didn’t go our way so it dug us in a hole,” forward Justin Sears ’16 said. “The result is promising seeing as we played one of our worst games of the year, and we still had a good chance to come on top in the last minute.”
The Elis will next be tested by a stingy USC defense that has limited its opponents to 38.5 percent shooting from the floor. The Trojans are fourth in the nation this season with 61 blocked shot attempts and in USC’s most recent game, the Trojans forced a season-high 23 turnovers against Idaho, eerily similar to Yale’s troubles against Illinois.
Sears scored 21 points against Illinois, and the senior has played well on the biggest stages for Yale this season. During a previous stretch of tough nonconference road games, Sears turned in performances of 15 points against SMU and 19 points against Duke. The Blue Devils’ head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, praised Sears, claiming he could be an “outstanding player” in the ACC.
Averaging 16.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, Sears can continue to build upon his Player of the Year campaign from a year ago against a talented USC frontline that includes freshman standout Bennie Boatright.
While the Bulldogs are on the hunt for the upset on Sunday, the Trojans have already notched a notable upset of their own this season, in large part due to Boatright. The 6’10” forward scored a career-high 22 points to lead the Trojans past then-No. 20 Wichita State on Nov. 26.
Boatright is one of six players on the USC roster averaging more than 10 points per game. Jordan McLaughlin leads the balanced scoring attack with 13.1 points per game, while Julian Jacobs is averaging 12.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, Yale counters with a one-two punch consisting of Sears and point guard Makai Mason ’18, who has provided a steady force for the Bulldogs. Mason has scored in double digits every game this season except in a Nov. 29 loss against Albany. The sophomore is averaging a team-high 16.6 points and 4.4 assists per game.
At the other guard position, captain and guard Jack Montague ’16 will look to bounce back from a 2–9 performance from beyond the arc against Illinois. His seven-point performance dropped his three-point percentage on the year to 41.0 percent. Montague, at 11.1 points per game, is the only other Bulldog besides Sears and Mason to be averaging double figures.
For USC, the game against Yale is the second of five straight home games. The Trojans defeated Idaho 74–55 in the first game of the home stand. USC boasts a perfect 5–0 at the Galen Center this season, whereas Yale has lost its past four games on the road.
“I think we are most looking forward to the opportunity to get a win against a power conference,” Mason said. “We feel that we should have already had a couple of those wins at this point, and we don’t want to waste another chance. It’s another great chance for us to prove that there is more parity between leagues than most people think, and a win would certainly help us show that.”
As far as what Sunday’s game may come down to, the rebounding battle will be crucial. The Bulldogs are averaging an Ivy League-best 42.6 rebounds per game, while USC is averaging a nearly identical 42.7 rebounds. However, Yale has outrebounded its opponents by more than 12 a contest, whereas the Trojans’ margin is just 3.2 more rebounds per game than their opponents.
Sherrod and guard Nick Victor ’16, the team’s two leading rebounders, will head Yale’s effort on the glass. Sherrod grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds against Illinois, when the Elis outrebounded the Fighting Illini 48–25. The rebounds, including nine from Sears and eight from Victor kept the Bulldogs close during the game despite the 23 turnovers.
“I’m just going to continue to chase the ball,” Sherrod said. “I try to get my hands on every ball that comes off of the rim. Also the fact that guards and Justin Sears draw so much attention, I’m always placed in a good position to be successful on the glass. As long as I play hard and relentless, I should be fine.”
Yale and USC have met just once before, when the Trojans defeated the Bulldogs 84–60 in 1988.
Yale is flying out to Los Angeles on Friday, and Sunday’s action will tip off at 4 p.m.