Courtesy Yale Athletics
The Yale men’s basketball team traveled to Fairfield Thursday night to take on Sacred Heart, looking to string back-to-back wins together. The Elis and Pioneers were locked into a defensive game in the first half, but the Bulldogs got hot in the second, winning 66–52.
Both teams scored just 26 points in the first half, and each team went through a five-minute scoreless spell. But the Elis then pulled away in the second half, getting 16 points from guard Alex Copeland ’19 in his first career start and 14 from forward Jordan Bruner ’20. This contest was a complete performance for the Bulldogs, who have trailed at halftime in four of their past five contests.
“[We have to] make sure we continue to play together and play the full 40 minutes of every game,” forward Blake Reynolds ’19 said.
Yale played from behind for most of the first 20 minutes, but stayed in the game due to strong play inside from forwards Sam Downey ’17, Bruner and Reynolds. The trio of big men combined for 10 boards and 19 points en route to a 20–16 rebounding advantage in the first half.
Both teams started out sloppy, with 10 turnovers for Yale and seven for Sacred Heart before the halftime break. The Pioneers got almost all of their first half scoring from their guards, as De’von Barnett and Quincy McKnight combining for 14 points. In the Eli backcourt, Copeland started in place of Trey Phills ’19, while guard Eric Monroe ’20 saw increased playing time.
The Elis started the second half strong and never looked back. They got off to a 12–2 start in the first four minutes and increasing their lead to 23 points with just five minutes to go. Bruner had possibly the play of the game five minutes into the second half, with a powerful two-hand slam — plus an accompanying foul — over a Sacred Heart big man.
Yale shot well once again from three-point range, hitting 37.5 percent with six makes — three of which came courtesy of Bruner, two from Copeland and one from captain and guard Anthony Dallier ’17. Yale also outrebounded Sacred Heart 39–33 over 40 minutes.
After traversing the country to visit nonconference opponents, the Bulldogs will return to John J. Lee Amphitheater, where they will play four of their next five games, for their Sunday matchup. First on the menu is Delaware (5–3, 0–0 Colonial Athletic Association), which is coming off a two-game span in which its combined point differential is +48. Delaware’s three highest scorers are all guards, who together combine for 33 points per contest.
While the Blue Hens do not generate a lot of scoring from their frontcourt, their big men have dominated the glass this year, with a rebounding margin of +11.1 on the season. This will present a good test for the Elis, whose top two rebounders this season on a per game basis are both freshman — Miye Oni ’20 from the wing position and Bruner off the bench.
“[Offensive rebounds] are game changers,” head coach James Jones said. “It’s an effort play. That’s been our brand and what we’ve been doing here for the last several years, so it’s nice to get back to it a little bit.”
Still, Yale is a stronger shooting team than Delaware by every measure, including field goal, free throw percentage and three-point percentage, the latter of which ranks second in the Ancient Eight. Like Yale’s last opponent Albany, Delaware struggles from range, sporting only a 30 percent conversion rate from beyond the arc.
Yale currently leads the Ivy League in assists per game as a team with 16.4, compared to just 12.1 for Delaware. The Elis rarely let it fly early in the shot clock, but rather swing it around the perimeter to create open shots. Oni cited “ball movement” as the most important factor to the team’s offensive success.
This fluidity has allowed Yale to get high-percentage shots inside with Downey as well as open looks from three-point range, which its shooters like Reynolds and Oni have been hitting with confidence through seven games.
After taking on the Blue Hens, the Bulldogs will close out their nonconference schedule with just four games over the next four weeks, including contests with Central Connecticut State, Temple, Hartford and Mitchell. Temple (5–2, 0–0 American Athletic Conference) is the most important test for the Elis over that stretch, since the Owls have made the NCAA Tournament seven of the past nine years.
Yale tips off against Delaware at 2 p.m.