Winner of 22 of its last 23 home games entering this past weekend, the Yale men’s basketball team had an opportunity to jump atop the Ivy League standings and secure a bid to the conference tournament with success at John J. Lee Amphitheater. But Princeton and Penn both played some of their best ball of the season in New Haven, handing the Bulldogs two losses and stalling their momentum as the four-team Ivy League Tournament draws nearer.
Yale (14–9, 6–4 Ivy) fell to third place in the conference standings after decisive 71–52 and 71–55 losses to the Tigers (17–6, 10–0) and the Quakers (11–12, 4–6) Yale’s offense never got on track against either team, as the Bulldogs shot a collective 38.8 from the field on Friday and 32.8 percent on Saturday in their first two-loss home conference weekend since March 7–8, 2014.
“We didn’t do the things we are capable of for being successful,” head coach James Jones said after the Princeton game. “The only thing we did all weekend long is rebound the ball. We didn’t defend and we didn’t share it properly. If we’re talking about doing three things to be successful and we only do one, it’s hard to win.”
Yale’s Friday loss to the Tigers was characterized by offensive struggles, as the team’s 51-point outing marked its lowest output of the season since a 62–38 loss to No. 14 Virginia on Nov. 20. The Bulldogs made just 35 percent of their second-half field goals on Friday as they attempted to climb back from a consistent deficit against an Ivy-best Tiger defense.
Princeton routinely disrupted the Bulldogs’ offensive scheme, aggressively hedging ball screens and stepping into passing lanes to force Yale into contested shots late in the shot clock. The Elis also struggled to create contact in the paint, as they attempted just 13 free throws in the game.
“We were able to get our hands on a lot of deflections,” Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson said. “There are a lot of guys that are hard to guard on their team and I thought we did a good job on a couple of their key guys and fortunate to get a win.”
On the other side of the court, guard Devin Cannady thrived all night for the Princeton offense. Matching his career-high 29 points — 20 of which came in an electric first half — Cannady made seven of Princeton’s 13 three-pointers on Friday night, while missing just one. Cannady’s threes seemed to answer every one of the Bulldogs’ advances throughout the game, shutting down multiple Eli momentum swings. Additionally, Tiger forward Spencer Weisz led the Tigers in rebounds, assists and steals.
Princeton relied heavily on the three ball against Yale. While Yale was the best team at limiting perimeter scoring coming into the weekend, both Princeton and Penn found success at JLA from the arc, taking 23 shots from downtown and making 56.5 and 39.1 percent, respectively. The three-pointer has become a point of attack for opposing offenses as of late, as Harvard attempted 30 of their own against the Bulldogs last weekend.
Even though Yale was outscored in the paint, the Ivy League’s best rebounding team asserted its dominance over the weekend. The Bulldogs outrebounded the Tigers 28–21 and denied Princeton a single offensive rebound during the entire night.
Guards Miye Oni ’20 and captain Anthony Dallier ’17 both reached double figures for the Elis on Friday, scoring 12 and 10 points, respectively. The pair turned in the most complete performances for a stagnant Eli offense on Friday night, also leading the Bulldogs with three assists apiece. However, they found themselves occasionally stymied by Princeton’s defense.
“They switch a lot and have a lot of interchangeable guys which makes it tough for us to run offense,” Dallier said. “I think at times we didn’t do a good job and let them take us out of our offense.”
Statistically, the same story played out Sunday afternoon against Penn. Yale once again outrebounded its opponent, this time 38–31, but failed to convert these extra possessions into any offensive rhythm. The Bulldogs shot just 32.8 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from beyond the arc. Turnovers also disrupted the offense, as the Elis coughed up the ball 15 times.
Two days after dealing Brown a surprise 96–72 shellacking, the Quakers entered JLA on a hot streak. Penn, which started its conference season with six consecutive losses, has now won four consecutive games and vaulted back into playoff contention.
Freshman phenom AJ Brodeur, who is in the running for Ivy League Rookie of the Year alongside Oni and Harvard’s Bryce Aiken, filled up the stat sheet on Sunday with 12 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Alongside fellow forward Matt Howard, the Quaker big man slowed down Yale defensively and pushed the pace on the other end of the floor.
Oni repeated as the standout performer for Yale, scoring 16 points and grabbing nine rebounds, while forward Sam Downey ’17 contributed nine points and seven boards of his own. The Elis also shot a solid 11–12 from the line compared to just 4–6 for Penn.
The visitors Penn made themselves at home in Yale’s arena, bringing with it the Quaker band and cheerleaders and a rowdy section of fans. The odd time slot — 1 p.m. on a Sunday — was also not conducive to a big turnout by the normally reliable Yale faithful. By the end of the game, when Penn was leading by nearly 20 points and had all the momentum, the frustrating contest almost felt like an away game for the Bulldogs.
Yale will have a chance to get back on track with an opportunity for revenge at Harvard on Friday. Despite the three-game skid, the Elis are still firmly in control of third seed in the Ivy League with strong odds to make the Ivy Tournament.