None of the five starters from the Yale men’s basketball team’s 2015–16 season opener were on the active roster for the season opener against the University of Washington. But different did not mean worse for the Bulldogs in their 2016–17 debut.
Taking the floor for the first time since last year’s historic NCAA Tournament run, the Elis silenced any doubters with a 98–90 victory over Pac-12 foe Washington. Despite the Huskies’ superior size, Yale fought hard on the glass, out-rebounding its West Coast opponents 42–29.
“It was a great team effort,” head coach James Jones said. “We stuck to our principles of sharing the ball, rebounding and playing sound defense.”
Yale’s five starters had just a combined 13 starts entering Sunday’s clash but looked like veterans against a highly skilled Washington team. In his collegiate debut, guard Miye Oni ’20 scored 15 first-half points, and though he battled foul trouble late, finished with 24 points to lead all Bulldog scorers along with six rebounds.
Oni got the offense going for the Elis with the first points of the season as Yale jumped out to an early 7–2 advantage. The Bulldogs did not look back, leading by as many as 18 points during the first half and taking a 49–35 advantage into the break.
Clean, unselfish basketball allowed Yale to dominate the first 20 minutes of play. The Bulldogs committed just one turnover in the entire half compared to eight by Washington. The Elis also combined for 12 assists in the first half, spreading the ball around and getting easy layups on several backdoor passes.
Yale’s backcourt showed its poise even without first-team All-Ivy point guard Makai Mason ’18, who was lost to a season-ending injury sustained last week, in the lineup. Captain and guard Anthony Dallier ’17 got to the line frequently and tallied 12 points and six assists, while guard Trey Phills ’19 started alongside him and recorded two steals. Guard Alex Copeland ’19 came off the bench and matched his career high of 14 points while dishing out five assists in 25 minutes of action.
The Elis answered several questions in their front court after the graduation of forwards Brandon Sherrod ’16 and Justin Sears ’16 and guard Nick Victor ’16. Forwards Blake Reynolds ’19 and Sam Downey ’17 showed they could hang with the larger Pac-12 big men, as the pair grabbed a combined 13 boards while scoring 22 and 19 points, respectively.
“We’ve really harped on rebounding this fall and our continued dedication to the craft really showed tonight versus Washington,” Downey said. “We worked hard and didn’t stop until we secured the rebound.”
Reynolds also showed off his three-point range, adding a new facet to the Yale offense by going three for seven from beyond the arc. Oni also proved himself to be a dangerous deep shooter, hitting four of six shots from three-point range.
The Eli bench demonstrated its depth in the frontcourt, with forwards Eric Anderson ’18 and Austin Williams ’20 seeing nine minutes apiece and recording seven rebounds as a pair. Playing without highly touted recruit Jordan Bruner ’20, Yale could see its frontcourt depth bolstered in the coming games if he is able to return.
Washington would tighten the game in the second half as its length and athleticism became problematic for the Bulldogs. Yale turned the ball over six times in the second half and the Huskies recorded eight blocks.
Huskies’ guard Markelle Fultz, a projected National Basketball Association lottery pick, found his rhythm in the second half for the home team. The highly touted freshman scored 30 points in the game, with 24 of those coming in the final 20 minutes.
“It feels great to beat a talented team like Washington to open the season but the best part is that we had a lot of guys step up and contribute to the victory,” Downey said. “That’s a great sign for the rest of the season.”
Sunday marked Yale’s first victory against Washington in the two schools’ four meetings. The Bulldogs next face Lehigh on Thursday in their home opener.