The two-time reigning Ivy League champion Yale men’s basketball team began its quest for another conference title this past weekend. Starting a pair of road games with a contest against Penn, the Bulldogs kicked off their 2017 campaign where they hope to finish: at the Palestra in Philadelphia, where the top-four Ancient Eight teams will battle in March for a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Yale (9–6, 1–1 Ivy) found mixed results in its opening weekend against Penn (6–8, 0–3) and Princeton (10–6, 3–0), defeating the Quakers 68–60 before falling 66–58 to the Tigers. The Bulldogs held their two opponents under 70 points for the eighth and ninth times this season, but received a more mixed bag from its offense. The Elis shot 43.8 percent from the field on Friday against Penn, but just 38.9 percent in the loss to Princeton.
“We showed our youth and inexperience in some ways,” head coach James Jones said. “We have so many sophomores and freshmen playing … A close game is going to tip in [Princeton’s] favor because they have juniors and seniors who have been tested and gone through it.”
The Bulldogs did not trail for a single minute of their victory over Penn, jumping out to a 10–2 lead early and extending their lead every time the Quakers made a run. Yale had success all night from deep, shooting 53.3 percent from three-point range. Three of those deep buckets came from guard Miye Oni ’20, who scored a game-high 18 points after being held scoreless in the first half.
The freshman was one of four Bulldogs to score in double figures at the Palestra along with guards Anthony Dallier ’17 and Alex Copeland ’19 and forward Blake Reynolds ’19. Oni and forward Jordan Bruner ’20 each grabbed seven rebounds on the night.
However, Yale was most successful against Penn because of who did not score: The Bulldogs held Quaker forward AJ Brodeur, one of the premiere scoring threats in the Ancient Eight and three-time Rookie/Player of the Week, to just 13 points. The freshman, who entered the contest averaging 14.8 points per game, played limited minutes in the first half while battling foul trouble. Jones credited his team’s help defense and physical approach to guarding Brodeur for curbing his production.
“[Brodeur] is a very good player and he’s a freshman,” Jones said. “He has to learn how to play through the contact and the bodies and we did a good job maintaining contact with him. If you watch at tape of when he scores, he gets around people where he has some daylight and we were able to close that daylight.”
Although Yale took advantage of Penn’s youth on Friday night, the Bulldogs found little inexperience to exploit Saturday night against a veteran Princeton team. Tiger junior guard Amir Bell scored eight points during a 11–0 Princeton run with under three minutes to play that iced the game.
The Tigers shot 1–15 from three-point range in the first half but found their rhythm in the second half, making 6–9 shots from deep. Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson credited his team’s improved shooting down the stretch to the Tigers’ ability to penetrate Yale’s defense.
“We did a better job getting to the basket in the second half [and] creating some opportunities at the rim,” Henderson said. “We can shoot at all positions so that makes us very difficult to guard.”
Yale hit just 25 percent of its three-point shots on Saturday, reducing much of the firepower in its offense that had put the team on the right foot to start Ivy League play. Still, Copeland, Yale’s quickest ball-handler, followed up his 12 points against Penn with 21 against Princeton, a tally which led all players.
The Elis took the floor against Princeton without their captain Dallier, who missed Saturday night’s game because of illness. Struggling to create good looks and make deep shots, Yale missed Dallier’s 41.7 percent three-point shooting on the year and team-leading 4.2 assists per game.
“I don’t think [playing without Dallier] changed our approach at all,” Copeland said. “We’ve had situations this year where guys needed to step up and make plays and ‘next man up’ has been our approach.”
The Bulldogs will have a quieter two weeks without the usual conference double-headers, as they will square off against Brown two Fridays in a row. The Elis and the Bears will tip-off in Providence at 8 p.m.