Exactly 349 days ago, the Yale men’s basketball team suffered the first of two heartbreaking losses. The first forced Yale to settle for a share of the Ivy League title with Harvard, and the second sent the Crimson to the NCAA Tournament while the Bulldogs’ magical season ended in despair.
Harvard, the same team that caused the Elis anguish last March, upset Princeton 73–71 on Friday night, giving Yale a 1.5-game lead over the Tigers and a chance to lock up sole possession of the Ivy League championship, and an NCAA berth, with a victory over Columbia on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs’ game was, in comparison to Harvard’s, dull. Yale (21–6, 11–1 Ivy) led Cornell (9–18, 2–11) wire-to-wire in a showing that ameliorated concerns about the team’s depth: the bench contributed a season-best 39 points to the team’s 24-point victory. Six Bulldogs reached double-digit scoring, and 11 players scored a basket overall.
“A lot of people said we don’t have a lot of depth, but I think tonight we made all the naysayers kind of shut up a little bit,” forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 said. “Guys stepped up and they were really confident. I think that’s a big key to being successful … It was nice to see guys pop up and knock down shots.”
The Elis canned four consecutive three-pointers to begin the contest. Point guard Makai Mason ’18, who had both ankles wrapped but seemed otherwise unaffected by an injury he sustained against Dartmouth last Saturday, made the first two baskets, followed by guards Nick Victor ’16 and Anthony Dallier ’17.
Behind those three-pointers, the Elis opened up a 13–2 lead just over five minutes into the game. But Cornell guard Matt Morgan, a strong Rookie of the Year candidate who leads the Ivy League in scoring at 18.9 points per game, gradually warmed up.
The freshman scored eight of Cornell’s next 10 points, pulling the Big Red within six as Yale’s shooting cooled off. The Bulldogs shot 14–33 from the field, a 42.4 percent clip, and made five of 16 attempts from deep over the first 20 minutes.
Additionally, the Bulldogs dominated the glass, outrebounding Cornell 25–14 in the first frame and grabbing nine offensive rebounds to the Big Red’s zero. Forwards Justin Sears ’16 and Sherrod finished with nearly identical first-half stats, as the frontcourt mates tallied four offensive rebounds, three defensive rebounds and a block each, while Sherrod outscored Sears six to three.
Though Yale’s five starters combined for 27 first-half points, guard Khaliq Ghani ’16 came off the bench to pace the Elis with nine points in 12 minutes of action.
He scored six points in a 19–2 Yale run that closed out the half. Due in large part to that run, the Bulldogs carried a comfortable lead into the locker room, 40–22.
“Sometime [shots] fall, sometimes they don’t,” Ghani said. “They were falling tonight, so that felt good.”
Coming out after halftime, the Bulldogs extended that run by scoring seven of the first nine points. Within six minutes, the lead had ballooned to 24 and the Big Red never again got closer than 20 points.
With the game comfortably in hand, Jones elected to rest his starters sporadically throughout the half. After all five starters played at least 38 minutes in the Bulldogs’ overtime win over Dartmouth last Saturday, no Yale player eclipsed 30 on Friday. Mason played just 24 minutes, his fewest since the last Yale–Cornell game, an 83–52 Eli rout.
Still, the starters were efficient in the time they played. Dallier quietly put together one of the night’s strongest performances, shooting 57.1 percent from the field and snagging six rebounds en route to a career-high 11 points.
Despite limited minutes from the starting five, the Bulldogs scored easily and often against a Cornell side that sits in last place in the Ancient Eight. In addition to Ghani, Yale head coach James Jones received a scoring boost from other reserves including guard Alex Copeland ’19 and forward Sam Downey ’17.
“It was great for Khaliq to have a great game, and for other guys to come off the bench,” Sears said. “It was a great team win to just build up our confidence and camaraderie going into this final Ivy League game.”
In his nine minutes, Copeland shot 4–5 from the field and 2–2 from beyond the arc to finish with 10 points, the first double-digit scoring game of his collegiate career. Downey also shot 4–5 from the floor as part of a 10-point performance.
Sherrod finished with a game-high 18 points, in addition to nine rebounds, while Sears recorded five points and 10 rebounds.
“I think [Sears] struggled a bit at the start,” head coach James Jones said of the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year. “He just never got into a really good rhythm, but what’s great about the team is that we don’t need one guy to do it for us. It’s a team effort and he got 10 rebounds tonight, which is great for us and that’s going to help us win basketball games.”
After the game, Sherrod praised his fellow forward, making a case for a second-consecutive Player of the Year award for Sears. In addition to his 10 rebounds, Sears was one of three Elis to tally four assists in the game — guards Mason and Victor matched that figure.
No Cornell player scored more than 12 points in the contest, as the Elis held Morgan to 5–15 shooting from the field. Yale also held guard Robert Hatter, who entered the game averaging 17.9 points a game — second-most in the conference behind Morgan — to just nine points. Neither Hatter nor Morgan connected from behind the arc for Cornell.
As a team, the Big Red shot 16.7 percent from the three-point line, making just three of its 18 attempts.
The Bulldogs hope to replicate the defensive dominance tomorrow against a high-scoring Columbia offense. When the two teams met in New Haven on Feb. 5, the Elis earned an 86–72 win to give Columbia its first loss of the Ivy season.
Should Yale win again on Saturday night, the team locks up sole possession of the Ivy League title and will earn the accompanying March Madness berth for the first time since 1962.
The game is scheduled to tip off at Levien Gymnasium at 7 p.m.