With just two more victories, the Yale men’s basketball team, winners of 12 consecutive contests, can move into a tie for the longest winning streak in school history — a 14-game mark set back in 1906–1907.
And with two more victories, the Elis (17–5, 8–0 Ivy) can also create substantial separation from the rest of the league as they pursue their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1962.
Yale will have to go through Princeton (16–5, 6–1) and Penn (9–12, 3–4), two Ivy League opponents the Bulldogs have already defeated this season. Princeton currently occupies second place in the conference and could pull even with the Elis in the loss column with a victory Friday night.
“Best case scenario, we play well defensively and keep [Princeton’s Henry] Caruso in check,” forward Justin Sears ’16 said. “Brandon [Sherrod ’16] gets 15-plus [points], I get 15-plus, Makai [Mason ’18] gets five assists and we win by six to eight points. I think that’s a good night for us. Then we go beat Penn the next night and we’re 10–0.”
The Bulldogs may face the added challenge of dealing with the continued absence of captain and guard Jack Montague ’16, who missed two games last weekend after starting the first 20 games of the season.
As of Wednesday night, Montague was “not with the team at this time,” according to Director of Athletics Tom Beckett.
While Montague remains on the roster for this weekend, guard Anthony Dallier ’17 is instead listed on the team media guide as a probable starter. Montague led the Ivy League in three-point shooting percentage last season and has made a team-high 67 three-pointers this year. Meanwhile, Dallier has shot 44 percent from beyond the arc this season, though he has only taken 25 attempts in 22 games.
While Dallier averages less than 16 minutes per game, he did see 25 minutes of action off the bench in Yale’s first meeting with Princeton on Jan. 30 in New Haven. In Yale’s closest Ivy contest of the season, the Bulldogs skirted past the Tigers with a 79–75 victory.
Mason played a phenomenal game in that contest, scoring a team-high 22 points, including 15 in the second half. The point guard was also 5–6 from behind the three-point line.
“I felt like they kind of played me to drive and packed it in so I was able to get a couple of open threes and knock them down,” Mason said. “I’m not sure if they are going to make any adjustments for that, so I will play accordingly.”
Mason possesses the skill set to place pressure on opposing defenses and force teams to respect his ability to drive into the paint. He ranks seventh in the Ivy League in scoring, at 15.9 points per game, and he is shooting 44.7 percent from the floor.
Mason’s play this weekend will be crucial for the Elis against a strong Princeton squad, as the sophomore attempts to build off a career-high 25 points against Dartmouth last weekend.
Additionally, Yale head coach James Jones stressed the importance of defense for the Bulldogs on Friday, especially closing out on Princeton’s shooters. The Tigers lead the Ivy League in scoring at 79.6 points per game.
“We did a poor job of defending once we got a lead [in the first meeting],” Jones said. “Princeton is a great offensive team and they shoot the ball at a pretty good rate, especially in their building, so we have to make sure we do a good job fighting through the screens and making them put the ball down on the ground and then guarding their penetration.”
The Bulldogs will have to stop Caruso, the junior forward who kept the Tigers close in the first matchup. Caruso scored 26 points on 10–19 shooting while freshman guard Devin Cannady poured in 15 points off the bench.
In a thrilling contest last weekend between Princeton and Columbia, which sits at 6–2 in the league, Cannady scored 23 points overall, including eight in the final 25 seconds of regulation to send the game to overtime.
The dramatic victory extended the second-place Tigers’ win streak to four, with the team’s most recent loss coming against Yale in New Haven.
In Yale’s second contest of the weekend, the Elis travel to the Palestra to face Penn, a team that earned a 92–84 victory over Cornell last Saturday. Center Darien Nelson-Henry scored 15 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out six assists in the triumph.
Due to an ankle injury, Nelson-Henry played limited minutes in the first Yale-Penn matchup, a game Yale won 81–58. He averages a team-high 12.4 points per game to go along with 8.6 rebounds per contest.
“[Nelson-Henry] draws a lot of attention,” Jones said. “They try to get the ball to him in the post on nearly every possession, so we have to do a great job of guarding him one on one and limiting his ability to make passes to his teammates in order for us to be successful … Without him, they are just a different team … You have to expect they are going to score many more than  with him in the lineup for the next game.”
Sherrod will likely be matched up defensively against Nelson-Henry, Sears said. Sears added that, though it will be a “tough task,” the team has managed to hold its own against opponents’ big men this year.
Nelson-Henry’s presence down low opens up the floor for Penn guards including Jackson Donahue and Matt Howard. Howard, who scored a team-high 17 points against Yale on Jan. 29, averages 12.3 points per contest, while Donahue contributes nearly nine points each game.
“Penn has a lot of shooters, people like [forward] Sam Jones,” Sears said. “Without [Nelson-Henry] out there, we were able to press up on their shooters and force them to drive without any threat of them dumping it off to him.”
In the first weekend series against Princeton and Penn, Sears scored 16 points in each Yale victory. The forward — who has won two consecutive Ivy League Player of the Week awards — averages a team-high 16.5 points per game.
Thanks in large part to the team’s dominant performance thus far in Ivy League play, Yale received three votes in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 national poll.
Tipoff against Princeton is set for 7 p.m. Friday night at Jadwin Gymnasium.
Maya Sweedler contributed reporting.