In a weekend in which the Yale men’s basketball team showed off its shooting prowess, the Bulldogs maintained their undefeated record at home, beating both Penn and Princeton en route to a 4–0 start in conference play. Although the Tigers gave Yale a scare down the stretch on Saturday, the Bulldogs did not trail for a single moment in either contest.
Of the many storylines this weekend, that of forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 and his streak of consecutive field goals made is perhaps the most exciting. The senior has made all 25 of his shot attempts in his last 93 minutes of play and he currently stands one basket away from the NCAA Division I record of 26 consecutive made field goals.
“They were point blank. You’ve got to make those,” Sherrod said of his shots against Penn. “My teammates are finding me in good positions. Kudos to Justin [Sears ’16], Makai [Mason ’18], Jack [Montague ’16] and Nick [Victor ’16]. I’m able to get deep in the post or at least get fouled.”
Against the Quakers (6–11, 0–3 Ivy) on Friday, Sherrod led the way for the Elis (13–5, 4–0) with 19 points. The six-foot-six forward took advantage of the absence of Penn’s Darien Nelson-Henry, who was limited by a sprained ankle suffered last Monday. Nelson-Henry started but was sent to the bench just 93 seconds into the game after receiving a flagrant foul.
The six-foot-eleven, 265-pound senior re-entered the game soon after, but only for a moment, as he finished with just three minutes of playing time. Penn was held to a 40-percent shooting clip from the field, and Yale outscored the Quakers 32–24 in the paint during Nelson-Henry’s absence.
Building on a 41–31 halftime lead, the Bulldogs retained a double-digit lead for the entire second half, cruising to the 81–58 victory.
After the game, Penn head coach Steve Donahue praised Yale’s mental toughness and physicality.
“We have a group of four seniors who have been around and know what they’re doing, and we have a hard-nosed sophomore,” head coach James Jones said. “That’s our team, and that certainly helps.”
Part of that blowout win over Penn stemmed from Yale’s success on the glass, which Jones pointed out as central to the team’s identity, as the Elis outrebounded the Tigers 41–25, including 16 offensive rebounds.
Meanwhile, the following night against fellow Ivy unbeaten Princeton (12–5, 2–1), the Bulldogs came away victorious despite less success on the boards: Yale failed to grab a single offensive rebound until the second half when, with 19 minutes remaining in the game, Sherrod grabbed a board and kicked the ball out to Mason, who knocked down a three-pointer.
That trey, one of five Mason drained against Princeton, was Yale’s seventh of the game. The Bulldogs went on to make 11 of 19 attempts from beyond the arc, a season-best percentage at 57.9. Princeton also made 11 three-pointers, but on 27 attempts.
After Sears made two free throws with 16:00 remaining in the second period, the Elis pushed the lead to 16 points, the largest margin of the contest. The Tigers battled back, however, thanks in part to three of those 11 three-pointers coming in quick succession to cut the Yale advantage to single digits.
Poor free-throw shooting and turnovers from the Bulldogs assisted the Tigers’ comeback attempt.
Struggling at the line is not new to the Elis, who entered the weekend with a 65.6 free-throw shooting percentage. However, after going 17–33 against Penn and 12–23 against Princeton, that rate has slipped to 63.9 percent, just sixth-best in the Ivy League.
The four-point win over the Tigers — the Bulldogs’ narrowest margin of victory this season — almost came down to free throws, as Princeton began fouling with 3:58 remaining.
“We shot 52 percent, 53 percent for the game, and if you make your foul shots, you score 80-something,” Jones said. “We didn’t do a good job from that standpoint, but I thought everything else was really great.”
In both games this weekend, Yale’s shooting percentage from the field — 60 percent and 52.8 percent — exceeded its mark from the line.
Feeding off the missed free throws and seven second-half Eli turnovers, Princeton guard Devin Cannady and forward Henry Caruso help lead the Tiger surge. Cannady and Caruso scored 10 of Princeton’s final 14 points in the last five minutes of the game. Caruso finished with a game-high 26 points, but with Sears playing tighter defense in the second half, Caruso did not score his first points in the final stanza until after the halfway mark.
In the victory, Sears notched a double-double, scoring 16 points and leading the Bulldogs with 10 rebounds. Guard Mason, meanwhile, led Yale scorers with 22 points after a 15-point second half. Sherrod contributed 19 as well, with 16 coming in the second half, after dealing with foul trouble early on.
Although foul trouble has also plagued Sears as of late, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year was able to accumulate 37 minutes on Saturday, the highest total of Yale players.
“These past few games have been tough, the refs have called a few ticky-tack [fouls], so the coaches have just been on me to play my game and see if I can make a defensive play,” Sears said. “I made a few defensive errors as well, but I don’t think too much about it when I’m out there.”
Following a three-block performance by Victor the prior night against the Quakers, Sears racked up another three against Princeton.
The pair of lockdown defenders, Sears and Victor, headline a defensive unit that according to college basketball analytics website KenPom.com ranks 37th out of 351 NCAA Division I teams in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Sears ranks third in the Ivy League in blocked shots with 1.6 rejections per game, while Victor’s 1.4 average is good for fifth place.
“I tell you one thing that was nice to see: [Sears] block a couple shots against the basket like he was mad at somebody,” Jones said. “Victor had been doing it, but I wanted to see ideally one of the best shot-blockers in the league get up there and rub a few on the backboard.”
Columbia, the only other remaining unbeaten team in the Ivy League, makes the trip to New Haven on Friday. Tipoff is slated for 5 p.m.