As many former Yale men’s basketball players return to New Haven for alumni weekend, a pair of victories over Harvard and Dartmouth could help four current Bulldog seniors avoid joining the ranks of basketball alumni for at least an extra two weeks.
The Elis (18–6, 9–1 Ivy) have played their last four contests on the road, but the team returns to John J. Lee Amphitheater on Friday to host the Crimson (11–15, 3–7) before celebrating the careers of Justin Sears ’16, Brandon Sherrod ’16, Nick Victor ’16 and Khaliq Ghani ’16 on Senior Night against the Big Green (9–15, 3–7).
“I do enjoy being on the road and taking the team on the road to play, but it is great to play games in your own building,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “I am excited to see the kind of fans that we will have this weekend.”
The Bulldogs currently sit a half game ahead of Princeton for first place in the Ivy League, while both Harvard and Dartmouth find themselves eliminated from title contention, as the two teams are each six games behind Yale, tied with one another for fifth place.
Although Harvard has won the last four matchups hosted in New Haven, the task seems more improbable this season for the Crimson. The Bulldogs are a perfect 10–0 at home, averaging a 21.9-point margin of victory in those contests. Meanwhile, Harvard has experienced its most trying season in some time, as the five-time defending Ivy League champion has not suffered seven conference losses in a season since the 2007–08 campaign.
The current Yale senior class holds a 3–5 record in the rivalry series with Harvard during its four years.
In the latest showdown between the two teams on Feb. 13, Sears scored a team-high 21 points to lead the Bulldogs to a 67–55 triumph in Cambridge. Sears ranks fourth in the conference with 17.0 points per game, and in Ivy play alone, the reigning Player of the Year is averaging 17.9 points per game.
As productive as Sears and his fellow frontcourt mate Sherrod have been in the paint, the team has not been as effective from behind the three-point line. The Elis struggled shooting from deep last weekend, as the team shot a combined 2–18 from three-point range against Princeton and Penn.
Part of the decreased efficiency could be attributed to the absence of former guard Jack Montague ’16, who served as captain for the first 24 games of the season, though he was not with the team in the four most-recent contests. Last year’s most proficient three-point shooter in the Ivy League, Montague has not played since Feb. 6 after averaging 9.7 points per game and 28.4 minutes of play.
Montague will not be rejoining the team this season and is currently withdrawn from Yale. Assistant Director of Sports Publicity Tim Bennett indicated on Thursday afternoon that there are no plans to name an interim captain for the final four games of the season.
Guard Anthony Dallier ’17, a solid bench contributor earlier in the season, has started in Montague’s place, shooting a combined 11–25 from the floor in his four starts and 2–8 from deep. Victor leads the team with a 47.1 shooting clip from behind the arc, though he has only made one of six attempts from long range over the team’s past five games.
While the team has seen its three-point shooting drop from 47.1 percent in its first five Ivy games to 25.0 percent in the past four, Jones said perimeter shooting is not a concern.
“We didn’t play particularly well moving the ball against Princeton,” Jones said. “We only had seven assists, which was a concern, not the amount of shots that we took or made from the outside. We certainly are capable of scoring from out there, and I believe that if we have those opportunities to score this weekend, we should knock some of those shots down.”
Whereas Yale now owns the conference’s fourth-best shooting clip from deep, Harvard leads the Ivy League in three-point shooting percentage at 38.5 percent. Three Crimson starters shoot above 35 percent from beyond the arc, including senior forward Agunwa Okolie and freshman guards Corey Johnson and Tommy McCarthy.
Down low, forward Zena Edosomwan carries much of the offensive load for Harvard. He averages a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds per game, both of which are team-highs. Edosomwan scored 18 points and hauled in 10 boards in the first Yale-Harvard contest.
According to Jones, the Bulldogs will attempt to limit Edosomwan’s ability to find and assist open shooters on the perimeter. He also cited the defensive presence of Sherrod as a key reason why the Elis have been able to limit post players such as Edosomwan over the course of the season.
Sherrod and Sears, whom Jones called “the two best big men in the league,” each average 7.1 rebounds per game. Thanks in part to their collective effort, the Bulldogs rank third in the nation in rebounding margin with 10.9 more boards per game than their opponents, and 16th in offensive rebounding with 13.8 per game.
After taking on Edosomwan and the Crimson, the duo will battle on the block with Dartmouth forward Evan Boudreaux on Saturday. The freshman sensation averages 17.6 points per game, the second-most in the Ivy league, and he also notches 9.4 rebounds per contest, behind only Edosomwan.
“When [Boudreaux] catches the ball, he doesn’t normally pass it very often,” Jones said. “We have to make sure we do a good job at stopping him, limiting his touches and making everything he gets tough. He made some difficult shots against us at Dartmouth, and we want to try to force him into taking those same tough shots again.”
Boudreaux recorded a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds in the 75–65 Yale victory in Hanover on Feb. 12, and he averaged 19 points per game against Cornell and Columbia last weekend. The Big Green split those games, defeating Cornell 76–66 before falling 73–54 to Columbia. Dartmouth has now won two of its last three games, after dropping five consecutive contests prior to that.
Other than Boudreaux, guards Miles Wright and Connor Boehm are the only Dartmouth players scoring in double figures, with 11.6 and 10.5 points per game, respectively.
Yale point guard Makai Mason ’18 scorched the Big Green for 25 points in this season’s first matchup, with 20 of those points coming in the second half to propel the Bulldogs to victory after facing a nine-point deficit with 16:52 left to play.
Mason ranks second on the team, behind Sears, with 15.7 points per game, while he also paces the Elis in assists and steals.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. against Harvard on Friday and 8 p.m. against Dartmouth on Saturday.