The Yale men’s basketball team entered Thanksgiving break with two impressive wins to start the season, knocking off highly touted Pac 12 foe Washington and preseason Patriot League favorite Lehigh to open up the year. However, challenging road games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents No. 7 Virginia and Pittsburgh and a trip up north to face Vermont proved enough to slow the Elis’ momentum.
Each of the Bulldogs’ three opponents, which have started the year a combined 16–3, defeated Yale (2–3, 0–0 Ivy). Despite the trio of nonconference losses, the Elis displayed a balanced offense through their first five games with four players averaging at least 13 points per game.
“The last few games just showed us that we have to work on a lot of little thing to close out ball games successfully,” forward Sam Downey ’17 said. “Playing close games against top competition will contribute to us gaining experience and should help us tremendously once we get to league play.”
The day after Yale football upset Harvard to overcome its nine-year drought against the Crimson, the men’s basketball team faced even greater odds as it travelled to Charlottesville, Virginia, to take on one of the nation’s top teams. No. 7 Virginia (5–0, 0–0 ACC) defeated the Bulldogs 62–38. Though Yale trailed by just seven coming out of halftime, the Cavaliers went on a 16–0 run early in the second half to put the game away.
Virginia outmatched the Elis on the glass, outrebounding them 41–28, and held every Bulldog to single-digit points except forward Blake Reynolds ’19, who posted 10. The sophomore is the only Yale player to have scored in double digits in each of the team’s first five games.
Just two days later, Yale tipped off against Pittsburgh (5–1, 0–0 ACC) in Pennsylvania. Despite trailing by 11 in the second half, the Bulldogs rallied to close the deficit to three, but could not seal the victory and lost 75–70. Yale struggled shooting the ball against the Panthers, finishing with just a 40.3 percent field-goal percentage.
Yale’s potent offense was on full display against the Panthers, with four different Elis scoring in double figures. Downey led the team with 17 points, while Reynolds scored 14 and guard Alex Copeland ’19 contributed 16 off the bench. Copeland is averaging 13.2 points per game this year, good for fourth on the team, though he has come off the bench in each contest.
“We know that sharing the ball and having multiple scoring threats makes us more dynamic and harder to guard,” Copeland said. “We’ve just been trying to follow coach [James Jones’] principles to get everybody involved in the offense.”
Guard Miye Oni ’20 continued his strong start to his freshman campaign against the Panthers, scoring 13 points and leading all players on both teams with 11 rebounds. The California native leads the Bulldogs in rebounding and is the team’s second-leading scorer through five games.
The Elis had their closest finish in a late-game comeback last Saturday against Vermont (6–2, 0–0 American East). The Catamounts, who played in the championship of the eight-team Gulf Coast Showcase just before Thanksgiving, defeated Yale 67–65 on a last-second layup by guard Ernie Duncan.
The Bulldogs outrebounded Vermont 38–29, but turned the ball over 18 times. Oni lead all players with 19 points, but the Catamounts shot well all day, finishing with a 49.1 field-goal shooting percentage.
“Our ball screen defense needs to improve, along with our transition defense,” Jones said. “Our team [also] needs to take more charges.”
Forward Jordan Bruner ’20 made his collegiate debut against Vermont after missing the first four games with injury. The freshman scored eight points in 17 minutes of action.
Yale remains on the road this week when the team travels to Bryant on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. tipoff.