Yale men’s basketball forward Justin Sears ’16 scored 21 points on consecutive nights to power the team to two Ivy League victories, preserving a perfect 8–0 conference start for the Bulldogs in addition to avenging the team’s most recent two conference losses.
Less than a year after back-to-back defeats at the hands of Dartmouth and Harvard, two games that cost Yale an outright title and the program’s first March Madness berth since 1962, the Elis solidified their spot atop the Ivy League with the weekend’s triumphs. Yale (15–5, 8–0 Ivy) outlasted the Big Green (8–14, 2–6) by a 75–65 margin and notched a 67–55 victory over the rival Crimson (10–14, 2–6) to extend its best conference start in school history.
“I don’t even think of last year. Last year is behind me,” Sears said. “We just treat every game like it’s a championship game, so one game at a time. We have six games left so there are six championship games left.”
This weekend’s slate of games had a slightly different feel, as starting shooting guard and captain Jack Montague ’16 did not travel with the team for personal reasons. Guard Anthony Dallier ’17 started in his place, and in his second and third career starts, the junior scored a combined 20 points on 7–12 shooting from the field.
The win over Harvard marked the 12th in a row for the Bulldogs, one shy of the program record of 13 consecutive victories set by the 1906–07 squad. The current win streak, which dates back to a Dec. 30 win over Central Connecticut State, includes 10 by a double-digit margin.
Yale has outscored its opponents by an average of 19.3 points per victory during the stretch.
Through the first 20 minutes of the Dartmouth matchup, however, it was not apparent that the Elis would be able to beat the Big Green by such a margin. The team shot a combined 8–29 from the field, a 27.6 percent clip that is less than half the team’s average shooting percentage. Point guard Makai Mason ’18, who entered the game as the fifth most productive scorer in the Ivy League, shot 0–7 from the field in the first period.
Heading into the locker room, Yale trailed 28–27, as freshman Evan Boudreaux and his 11 points carried the Big Green. The seven-time Ivy League Rookie of the week finished the contest with 21 points on 7–15 shooting.
“I was looking through our box scores this year, and we haven’t trailed at the half very often,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “It’s going to happen. The last few weeks, we’ve shot lights-out. Makai Mason was due to have a first half like he had tonight, but I thought our guys really gritted it out and fought the entire game and found a way to get it done, which is really important. In a game where you don’t play your best, we were able to break through and win.”
Down by as many as nine in the second half against Dartmouth, the veteran Bulldogs managed to keep their composure.
When Big Green guard Miles Wright, last year’s Rookie of the Year, drained a three-point shot to put Dartmouth up 41–32 with just under 17 minutes to play, the Bulldogs responded with a 23–11 run over the ensuing 10 minutes.
“Collectively, it seemed like we had a sense of urgency in the second half,” Mason said. “We knew we couldn’t lose this game.”
Mason went on to make six of his nine second-half field goals and all four of his attempts from beyond the arc. The sophomore finished with a game- and career-best 25 points in the Bulldog victory.
While the Elis were unable to take control of the Dartmouth contest until well into the second half, Yale worked more quickly against Harvard. Led by 14 points in the first frame from Sears, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 37–26 halftime lead over the Crimson.
Harvard, who boasts the most efficient three-point scoring offense in the league, was slowed by Yale’s zone defense. According to Jones, the Bulldogs decided not to double Harvard’s main scoring threat, Zena Edosomwan, for fear of leaving the Crimson sharpshooters open on the perimeter.
Sam Downey ’17 came off the bench after forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 picked up two quick fouls and effectively neutralized Edosomwan, who entered the game averaging 14.5 points per game. Though Edosomwan notched 18 points, nine of them came in the final seven minutes of play, when Yale had already built a comfortable double-digit cushion.
“Obviously, [Sherrod] got in foul trouble early so I wasn’t really expecting to get that many minutes in the first half,” Downey said. “[Edosomwan] is a great player and I knew I had to definitely get him out of the box.”
Edosomwan also snatched 10 rebounds to pick up his 10th double-double of the season. Although guard Nick Victor ’16 had a game-high 12 rebounds, including nine on the defensive end, the Bulldogs were ultimately outrebounded 36–33. It was just the second time in conference play that the Elis have not outrebounded their opponents.
Yale was also beaten on the boards against Brown in Providence on Jan. 22 by a 38–37 margin, though the Bulldogs comfortably won the game by 24 points.
“Rebounding is important,” Jones said. “This is the first game we’ve been outrebounded in forever. I can’t remember the last time we got outrebounded … we have to do a better job hitting the glass because that’s who we are. That’s our stamp: as a team, we rebound the ball.”
Next weekend, Yale first travels to Princeton to take on the second-place Tigers in the most significant matchup of the 14-game tournament thus far. With a thrilling overtime victory over Columbia on Saturday, Princeton moved into second place in the conference.
Princeton’s sole loss of the season came in New Haven on Jan. 30, when Yale earned a 79–75 victory, the Bulldogs’ closest win during their 12-game winning streak.
Tipoff in New Jersey is set for 7 p.m. on Friday.