Following a statement win in the season opener against Pac-12 foe Washington, the Yale men’s basketball team returns to New Haven for its home opener this Thursday against Lehigh before a stretch of three away games over Thanksgiving break.
On Sunday night, the Bulldogs (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) emphatically demonstrated how they would replace the production of three first-team All-Ivy players and four-fifths of their starting lineup from last year’s NCAA tournament run. Forwards Sam Downey ’17 and Blake Reynolds ’19 asserted themselves in the paint, while guard Miye Oni ’20 had a memorable Yale debut, scoring 24 points. Coming off an 84–81 loss to No. 11 Xavier, Lehigh (0–1, 0–0 Patriot) now has to contend with an Eli squad which had five different players put up at least 12 points last weekend.
“We need to continue to improve defensively and play good defense for the entire game,” Reynolds said. “We played good defense for the first half of the game against Washington, but we have to be able to finish games on the defensive end.”
Yale dominated the boards against a much taller and longer Washington lineup. The Elis, who led their opponent by 20 points late in the first half, outrebounded the Huskies 42–29 and created 19 second-chance points off of 21 offensive rebounds.
Downey, who recorded 22 points and seven rebounds against Washington, will battle a Lehigh frontcourt which ceded 20 such second-chance points to Xavier on Friday. The senior will likely have to defend Mountain Hawks’ big man Tim Kempton, who scored 25 points and registered seven boards in their season opener. Kempton has been named Patriot League Player of the Year in each of the last two seasons.
Opposite Downey, Reynolds had a strong first showing as well. In addition to registering 14 first-half points and grabbing six rebounds in the contest, the sophomore displayed range with a 3–7 performance from beyond the arc. Reynolds and company shot a combined 44 percent from three-point range on Sunday, though they will face a Lehigh team which held Xavier to just 23.5 percent from distance.
Oni paired his 24 points in his debut performance with six rebounds and a 4–6 showing from beyond the three-point arc. Captain and guard Anthony Dallier ’17 managed six assists with only one turnover while playing almost the entire game. The turnover margin could prove a boon for Yale on Thursday, as they forced Washington to turn the ball over 20 times — the same number of turnovers committed by Lehigh last week — while limiting their own to just seven.
The Elis kept a tight rotation against Washington, with only three players coming off the bench. Though guard Trey Phills ’19 got the start, guard Alex Copeland ’19 came off the bench and ended up seeing slightly more action than his teammate, recording 14 points and three assists in 13 second-half minutes. Lehigh played its bench more extensively than Yale in its season debut, with eight different players seeing at least 11 minutes and scoring five points.
“We did a great job of sharing the ball and executing our offense,” Copeland said. “Makai [Mason ’18] was our floor general and controlled our offense, so people doubted our ability to do that without him, but we really stepped up in that area. We also had great energy throughout the game and stayed together when the crowd got involved and they made their runs.”
The Eli backcourt will match up with a Lehigh team which did not have an answer for the Xavier backcourt, giving up a combined 49 points to the Musketeers’ starting guards. The Elis played great team defense on Sunday, holding guard Markelle Fultz to just six first-half points before the projected National Basketball Association lottery pick erupted for 24 in the second half.
The Mountain Hawks had a strong shooting performance in their first game, shooting 50 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from three-point range and 82.4 percent from the line. However, they lost the battle on the glass 32–27, a weakness which the Eli big men will certainly look to exploit.
Despite its loss, Lehigh’s performance against Xavier was impressive, considering the Musketeers cracked the top five in the national polls last year and are currently ranked No. 11 by the Associated Press.
“[Lehigh is] a well-rounded, well-coached team,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “They’ve got some great outside shooting from the perimeter guards that pose a threat to us coming out and playing successfully.”
After the Lehigh contest, the Bulldogs will play a slew of road games over Thanksgiving break; Yale kicks off with a matchup with No. 8 Virginia on Sunday followed by games against Pittsburgh and Vermont the following week. Virginia (2–0, 0–0 ACC) decimated St. Francis Brooklyn Tuesday night 72–32.
UVA guard London Perrantes leads the Cavaliers this year after the departure of ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to the NBA. Virginia also features a strong new cast that includes five-star recruit and guard Kyle Guy and forward Austin Nichols, a transfer from Memphis.
Virginia is the highest-ranked team on Yale’s schedule this season, and the Elis will have to contend with UVA’s traditionally stout defense. The Cavaliers finished second in the nation last year in scoring defense, giving up just 60.1 points per game, and have allowed just 83 in their first two games combined.
The Bulldogs’ matchup against Lehigh tips off in the John J. Lee Amphitheater at 7 p.m.