A night after dropping a 75–63 decision to Princeton, the Yale men’s basketball team recovered nicely with a 79–58 win over Penn. The victory keeps the Elis a half game ahead of the Tigers atop the Ivy League.
The Bulldogs (18–6, 9–1 Ivy) overcame a lackluster first half to pull away in the second, holding the Quakers (10–13, 4–5) to 7–28 shooting from the field in the final frame. While the defense tightened, forward Justin Sears ’16 made baskets from seemingly every part of the paint, connecting on 12 of his 17 shots from the field en route to a 31-point night, tying his career-best.
“Justin is an enigma. He’s a tremendous player,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “Sometimes I don’t understand some of the things he does, but he has his own way about him and his way is a good way. When he’s playing at the top of his game, especially in this league, he’s very difficult to stop.”
Though not evident from the final score, the game was close for a large portion of the evening. Penn guard Jake Silpe connected on a three-pointer to tie the game at 20–20 with 5:56 remaining in the first half.
Silpe was one of three Quakers to score at least six points in the frame, along with center Darien Nelson-Henry and guard Matt Howard, the latter of whom paced the Quakers with 11 first-half points.
Nelson-Henry played just three minutes in the first Yale-Penn meeting due to an injured ankle, though the healthy 6-foot-11 big man’s presence did little to slow down Sears and forward Brandon Sherrod ’16.
After Sears scored 16 points and Sherrod contributed a team-high 19 points in the two teams’ matchup in New Haven on Jan. 29, the duo picked up right where they left off on Saturday, combining 8–15 shooting for 26 of Yale’s 37 first half points.
At halftime, the Bulldogs clung to a 37–32 lead, as Howard made a layup with five seconds on the clock to cut into the deficit and give the Quakers some momentum going into the break.
That momentum stagnated, as both teams ratcheted up the defensive pressure in the second half. Penn cut the deficit to 39–37 behind a Nelson-Henry basket less than two minutes into the period, but neither team scored for the ensuing 2:45.
“We were probably a little gassed, to be honest with you,” Penn head coach Steve Donahue said of that scoreless stretch. “I thought we had to put some full-court pressure on them, limit them from three, and we did all that, but in time, it took its toll. Mental and physical fatigue set in, and even though we had open shots, we just didn’t have our legs with us.”
It was not until forward Sam Downey ’17 made a layup with 15:25 remaining that the scoring drought was broken. Downey came off the bench to score eight points on 4–5 shooting, all in the second half. The forward injected the Bulldogs with some much-needed energy, as that basket jump-started 16 consecutive points between him and Sears.
In fact, the pair combined for 26 points in the final 20 minutes, matching Penn’s total as a team. Sears continued to dominate in the paint, finishing 7–7 in the half while tacking on 4–6 shooting from the foul line.
Yale outscored Princeton 48–28 in the paint and blocked six shots to the Quakers’ one.
Sears, the two-time reigning Ivy League Player of the Week, also tacked on seven second-half rebounds, putting him at a game-high nine rebounds. No Penn player had more than five rebounds, and Yale ultimately outrebounded the Quakers 35–29.
Howard, who scored 17 points on 7–10 shooting in the first game between the two teams, finished the night with a team-high 16 points. He finished 6–13 from the field, and only one Quaker — Nelson-Henry — shot above 50 percent from the field.
“Our defense was great in the second half, just tremendous,” Jones said. “Penn shot 50 percent in the first half, and they shot 25 percent in the second half. That’s an unbelievable job to be able to do that to a team that’s really good offensively.”
It was the fourth consecutive game in which captain and guard Jack Montague ’16 did not play. Guard Anthony Dallier ’17 continued to start in his place while Trey Phills ’19 was the first guard used off the bench, seeing a significant uptick in playing time as he spent 10 minutes on the floor.
Only Phills and Downey earned double-digit minutes off the bench, while the five other reserves combined for just 12 minutes of action.
For the second consecutive night, the team made just one three-pointer, as the Elis took a mere six attempts from deep. For the second consecutive night, the team made just one three-pointer, as the Elis took a mere six attempts from deep. However, Penn did not capitalize, as it only made three of its 18 attempts from beyond the arc.
With just two weekends remaining in Ivy play, the Bulldogs return home this weekend after four games on the road. Yale will play Harvard on Friday and Dartmouth on Saturday in the John J. Lee Amphitheater.