It was just the seventh game of the season, but the Yale men’s basketball team had seen this situation before. One team jumps out to an early first half lead, the other rallies in the second and it all comes down to the final 30 seconds.
This past Saturday afternoon in New Haven, it was the Bulldogs (3–4, 0–0 Ivy) who prevailed with just seconds on the clock. The Elis overcame a cold first-half shooting performance to defeat Albany (4–4, 0–0 America East) with a final score of 59–55.
“We got in the locker room at halftime and coach told us we were playing soft and had to be more aggressive and physical — we have to play our brand of basketball,” guard Alex Copeland ’19 said. “We came out and had more energy and punched first.”
Yale entered that halftime locker room trailing 30–23. The Bulldogs shot just 30.8 percent from the field in the first half while getting outrebounded 16–12. Albany guard Marqueese Grayson scored 10 points in the first half, and the Great Danes’ big men asserted themselves in the frontcourt.
Both teams struggled to take care of the ball in the first 20 minutes. Yale turned it over nine times while the Great Danes coughed it up 10 times. After the game, Albany head coach Will Brown lamented the turnovers, saying that they inhibited his team from expanding on its lead at crucial junctures of the first half.
“When you’re on the road and have a chance to extend your lead, you got to take advantage of it and I don’t think we did that,” Brown said.
Aside from three triples by captain and guard Anthony Dallier ’17, Yale shot just 25 percent from beyond the arc in the first half.
But while Albany shot 56.5 percent from the field, Yale limited them to just 30 first half points. Albany’s top two scorers, guards Joe Cremo and David Nichols, combined for just six points in the first 20 minutes. The Elis tightened up even further down the stretch, allowing just 25 points after halftime.
“Our defense picked up in the second half,” head coach James Jones said. “We got beat at the basket [in the first half] one on one so we started doubling the post … that took away a lot of their offense. They’re not a three-point shooting team.”
The Bulldogs opened the second half on an 8–2 run. Guard Trey Phills ’19 and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 both hit three-pointers before Phills electrified John J. Lee Amphitheater. The guard stole the ball, threw it to himself down court, beat the defenders to the ball and then slammed it home, closing the deficit to one point. Phills finished with a season-best nine points on the day.
Dallier and Copeland each finished the afternoon with a team-high 15 points, the only Bulldogs in double figures.
Albany expanded its lead back to eight before the Elis recaptured the momentum. Behind some strong outside shooting and tough rebounding inside, Yale went on a 16–2 run in the middle of the second half to take a six-point lead. Eight of Copeland’s 15 points came during this stretch.
The Great Danes made it interesting again late, trailing just 56–55 with the ball and 13 seconds on the clock. Yale fouled Cremo — who Brown said after the game played through an injury sustained in the first half — with eight seconds to go.
Cremo missed on his one-and-one attempt, and forward Jordan Bruner ’20 came down with a hard-fought rebound, his team-high ninth of the game. On the subsequent in-bound, Phills caught the ball just beyond midcourt and was quickly fouled. The sophomore made one of the free throws and missed the second, but Copeland had his teammate’s back — he came up with the ensuing loose ball and was subsequently fouled.
Copeland’s two ensuing successful free throws secured the 59–55 victory for Elis.
Yale returns to the road on Thursday to take on Sacred Heart in Fairfield. Tip-off is at 8 p.m.