After five unblemished weekends, the Yale men’s basketball team suffered its first Ivy League defeat, falling to Princeton 75–63 on Friday before rebounding 79–58 against Penn the following night.
Although the Tigers snapped the nation’s longest-active win streak at 12 consecutive victories, the Bulldogs (18–6, 9–1 Ivy) still retain the top spot in the Ivy League standings, half a game ahead of Princeton. Princeton (18–5, 8–1) has played one fewer conference game than the Elis, who have four games remaining in the 14-game tournament.
“Regardless of what we did last night, we knew we needed to win tonight and we have to win next weekend and we have to win the weekend after that,” Yale head coach James Jones said after the team’s win over the Quakers on Saturday. “Each team is in the same boat.”
Princeton relied on a 18–2 run heading into halftime to flip a 27–21 deficit into a 39–29 Tiger advantage. The game-changing stretch was sparked by freshman guard Devin Cannady, who came off the bench to knock down two three-pointers. Cannady finished with a game-high 20 points — the main reason why the Tigers’ bench outscored the Bulldogs’ 30–6.
After Cannady’s quick six points, Henry Caruso, Spencer Weisz, Steven Cook and Amir Bell then scored an additional 12 in the final four minutes to carry momentum into the halftime break.
“I thought the last few minutes of the first half was the whole game,” Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson said. “It gave us a little bit of a kick going into halftime and also the blueprint for what we wanted to do going into the rest of the game.”
Princeton shot 55.2 percent from the field in the first half while Yale shot 36.7 percent, flipping the script from the first time the teams met. In Yale’s home victory three weeks ago, the Tigers shot 41.7 percent in the first 20 minutes while the Bulldogs made 62.5 percent of its attempts.
While three-point shooting also proved pivotal in the first encounter — Yale shot 57.9 percent from deep back on Jan. 30 — the Bulldogs made just one of 12 three-point attempts in Friday’s contest.
The team’s struggles have become more apparent with the continued absence of captain and guard Jack Montague ’16, who has missed the past four games and is currently “taking a personal leave,” as he told the News last Wednesday. In the five Ivy games in which Montague was on the floor, Yale shot 47.1 percent from three-point range. In the four league contests without last year’s conference-leading three-point shooter, the team is shooting just 25.0 percent from deep. Although Montague is listed on the roster, he has not attended any of the past four Yale games.
Point guard Makai Mason ’18 sank the only Eli triple in the Princeton game, but missed his four other attempts from beyond the arc. Still, he tied for the team-high with 18 points, joined by forward Brandon Sherrod ’16, who also contributed six rebounds.
“I thought we had some open looks. It wasn’t like [the three-point attempts] were contested and we just missed shots,” Jones said. “You’re going to play 30 games throughout the year, basically, and you’re going to have some games where you lay an egg. You just hope it’s not in a game that matters as much as this one mattered.”
Yale failed to make a sustained comeback in the second half, as the Tigers led throughout the final period. A pair of free throws from Sherrod cut the deficit to six with 7:08 remaining, but that margin was the closest Yale would get.
Princeton finished the night with a 46.3 percent mark from the floor, including 8–20 shooting from deep, while Yale managed just a 38.6 percent clip from the field.
The Elis’ subpar shooting carried over into the first half of Saturday’s meeting with Penn. Yale, however, relied on tough defense to grind out the victory. Clinging to a five-point lead at halftime, the team held the Quakers to 7–28 from the field in the final frame.
“Penn shot 50 percent in the first half, and they shot 25 percent in the second half,” Jones said. “That’s an unbelievable job, to be able to do that to a team that’s really good offensively.”
Although the Quakers struggled in the second half, Yale did not capitalize in the opening minutes of the period. Penn cut its deficit to 39–37 behind a basket from forward Darien Nelson-Henry less than two minutes into the period, but neither team scored for the ensuing 2:45.
Nelson-Henry put up 15 points and four rebounds, while guard Matt Howard paced the Quakers with 11 first-half points and 16 points overall.
“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.”
The Bulldogs turned to their post play to pull away with the victory. Sears scored 18 points on perfect 7–7 shooting from the field in the half, while forward Sam Downey ’17 added eight points. The duo combined to match Penn’s 26 total points in the final frame.
Sears finished the game with 31 points and nine rebounds, seven of which came after halftime. The reigning Ivy League Player of the Year is now averaging 17.9 points in conference games, third-best in the Ancient Eight.
“I wasn’t as aggressive or as decisive with the ball as I should’ve been [Friday] against Princeton, so I just wanted to come out and be aggressive,” Sears said after the Penn game.
Sears was part of a starting unit that played a tiring weekend, logging 82.8 percent of the available minutes. Against Princeton, Jones used an eight-person rotation, subbing in guard Khaliq Ghani ’16, guard Eric Anderson ’18 and Downey.
While Jones gave 12 players minutes on Saturday, only two reserves— guard Trey Phills ’19 and Downey — played more than five minutes.
With Yale and Princeton both vying for the top spot in the Ivy League, Columbia’s two wins this weekend over Harvard and Dartmouth solidified the Lions’ third-place standing at 8–2. Beyond those three teams, however, the remaining five squads all have records below 0.500 in conference action.
The Bulldogs host rival Harvard on Friday at 7 p.m. The Crimson are currently tied with Dartmouth for fifth place in the Ivy League.