Courtesy of Steve Musco
With just six games to play in the Ivy League season, the standings have taken shape for the Yale men’s basketball team and its seven conference foes. Double-loss weekends from Columbia and Brown gave the Bulldogs a nice cushion in securing a place at the four-team Ivy League tournament in March.
While the prospect of competing at the Palestra in March looks promising for the Elis, their 1–1 record over the weekend did hurt their chances at a third straight Ancient Eight regular-season title. The Bulldogs (14–7, 6–2 Ivy) looked strong on Friday night with a 73–64 victory over Dartmouth (5–16, 2–6), but an eight-point loss to Harvard (14–7, 6–2) on Saturday night put Yale two games behind Princeton in the Ivy standings and snapped its 22-game home-win streak.
“We did a really good job in the first half not turning the ball over,” head coach James Jones said of Saturday’s game. “We turned it over four times in the first half, but eight times in the second. We shot 48 percent in the second half. You can’t do much better offensively than that so [the turnovers hurt us].”
Guard Alex Copeland ’19 returned to his early season form this past weekend after a quiet stretch in which he scored fewer than 10 points in four straight games. The sophomore led Yale in scoring both nights, dropping 14 against Dartmouth and 20 against Harvard.
More impressive than Copeland’s points total was his efficiency, as he was 15–24 from the field over the weekend. Copeland said he did not change much, but instead relied on what had worked earlier in the season.
“I was trying to do the same things I’ve been doing,” Copeland said. “My teammates put me in good spots. All I have to do is make good shots. I went through a quiet stretch but I knew some of the shots would fall.”
Guard Trey Phills ’19 joined Copeland in double figures Friday night against Dartmouth, but the key performance for the Bulldogs may have been forward Jordan Bruner ’20. The freshman came off the bench to put up nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Bruner and his fellow Eli big men held the Ivy League’s leading rebounder — Dartmouth forward Evan Boudreaux — to just three boards on the night.
Yale, the conference’s best rebounding team, outrebounded Dartmouth 34–26. Boudreaux led all scorers with 15 points, but was the only Dartmouth player in double figures.
The Elis also shot well against the Big Green, making 57.4 percent of their field goals. Between Copeland and Bruner, the Bulldog bench outscored Dartmouth’s 32–19. Yale did not trail once during the final 25 minutes of the game.
The Bulldogs looked poised to win the following night against Harvard as well, but hit some trouble down the stretch, including second-half scoreless stretches and foul trouble. Forward Sam Downey ’17 achieved a double-double in the first half — and finished the game with 15 points and 14 rebounds — helping the Elis outscore Harvard 22–8 in the paint in the first period.
Yale led by eight at one point during the first half, but took just a five-point advantage into halftime. The inability to knock out the Crimson while it was down eventually doomed the Bulldogs.
Harvard hit 12 three-pointers throughout the contest, making it hard for the Bulldogs to keep pace at times. Yale, in turn, hit just three of its 16 shots from beyond the arc all night, two courtesy of forward Blake Reynolds ’19. Jones noted that his team’s ball screen defense opened up a lot of deep looks for Harvard.
“We did not do a good job containing them in the ball screen which led to a lot of open looks from the perimeter, which they were able to knock down,” he said.
Harvard freshman guard Bryce Aiken made five of the Crimson’s 12 threes and led all scorers with a career-high 27 points. Jones called Aiken’s four-point play — a three-pointer plus a foul shot that came with 9:03 to go in the game — the single biggest play of the game.
Freshmen played major roles on both teams throughout the night. Yale guard Miye Oni ’20 had nine second half points in an attempt to bring Yale back into the game, though Harvard locked down defensively in the final five minutes. The Bulldogs struggled to generate quality shots for Downey and Copeland late in the game as Harvard keyed in on Yale’s playmakers. Usually dominant on the boards, Yale grabbed just one more rebound than Harvard.
“We had a tremendous team effort … and we were resilient tonight,” Aiken said. “We came out with a fire.”
While the rematch with Harvard down the road and the conference tournament after that could take some sting out of the loss for the Elis, Downey strongly disagreed: “I want to beat Harvard every time we play them.”
The loss to Harvard makes a victory over Princeton this Friday all the more necessary for the Elis, when the two teams square off in New Haven. The Tigers have not lost a conference game this season and defeated Yale in New Jersey 66–58 on Jan. 14.
Yale has the final two games of its four-game homestand next weekend. Friday’s tipoff against Princeton is at 8 p.m. and Sunday’s against Penn is at 1 p.m.