Coming off an uncharacteristically flat weekend, the Yale men’s basketball team has a prime opportunity to regain momentum, two weeks before the Ivy League Tournament. The Elis will get a chance to end their three-game skid with a revenge meeting at Harvard on Friday, followed by their second contest of the season with Dartmouth on Saturday.
In its first meeting with the Big Green (6–17, 3–7 Ivy) two weekends ago at John J. Lee Amphitheater, Yale (14–9, 6–4) triumphed 73–64 behind 14 points from guard Alex Copeland ’19 and strong team rebounding. The Bulldogs fell 75–67 the next day to the Crimson (16–7, 8–2), however, after freshman guard Bryce Aiken scorched the Bulldogs for 27 points. Yale will have to put last weekend’s losses to Princeton and Penn — the team’s first pair of back-to-back home losses since March 2014 — in the rearview mirror if it hopes to get the better of its upcoming road adversaries.
“I thought Friday [against Princeton] we were fractured at times during the game, and [against Penn] we took a step in the wrong direction,” head coach James Jones said. “We did not play like a team. We were more so individuals than a group, and that is very disappointing.”
The Bulldogs’ troubles against Princeton and Penn came on both the offensive and defensive ends. Offensively, Yale averaged a meager 53.5 points on a combined 35.6 shooting percentage from the field over the weekend. Guard Miye Oni ’20 was the only Eli who got into an offensive rhythm, averaging 14 points per game in the pair of home losses.
Defensively, the home team did not perform to its usual standards, as the Tigers and Quakers bombarded the usually stout Yale perimeter defense with three-pointers, hitting a combined 22 threes at a 47.8 percent clip.
The bright spot over the weekend came on the glass, as Yale outrebounded both of its opponents and denied Princeton a single offensive rebound. This is an advantage the Elis can exploit again this weekend: In its last matchup with Dartmouth, Yale held the Ivy League’s best rebounder, forward Evan Boudreaux, to just three boards. Eli forward Sam Downey ’17 came down with 14 rebounds the following day against Harvard, catalyzed by a first-half double-double.
The key to a victory on Saturday will be shutting down Boudreaux once more, as the sophomore standout and reigning Ivy League Player of the Week ranks second in the Ancient Eight in conference scoring and first in rebounding, grabbing nearly two more boards per game than Downey’s second-place mark.
“It’s something we work on a lot in the gym,” captain and guard Anthony Dallier ’17 said. “We definitely pride ourselves on our rebounding.”
In reality, the Elis played a stronger game against Dartmouth on Feb. 10 than is evident on paper; the Big Green clawed its way back to a respectable deficit in the closing minutes of the game despite trailing by as much as 19. This contest was also the last time the Elis shot to their standards from the field or from beyond the arc — recording 57.4 and 35.7 percent clips, respectively — a shooting form which they will hope to regain after weaker offensive outings during the past three games.
Downey’s offensive game should be a focal point for the Bulldogs against Harvard, as his 15 points in the rivals’ last meeting proved his ability to poke holes in a Crimson defense ranking second best in the league in points allowed. On the other end of the court, the Lake Forest, Illinois, native also helped shut down Harvard’s second best rebounder, Chris Lewis. The rookie forward was double-teamed frequently and forced into early foul trouble, ending with just four points and a season-low two rebounds in the game.
Regardless of how Yale plays inside, the Crimson will look to beat Yale the same way it did last time: on the perimeter. Aiken and fellow guard Siyani Chambers, the latter a three-time All-Ivy selection, spearheaded the Crimson attack and scored a combined 43 points while connecting on a combined 7–15 three-point attempts. As Yale’s best perimeter defender, guard Trey Phills ’19 could see more minutes shadowing Aiken this time around with Copeland and Oni seeing more of Chambers.
While a date with cellar-dweller Dartmouth is one the Elis should expect to win, they cannot afford to take any game for granted at this point in the season. Though it is not do-or-die time yet for the Bulldogs as the postseason nears, at least one win this weekend will secure Yale’s place as the No. 3 seed in the Ancient Eight heading into the final weekend of regular-season Ivy play. Currently enjoying a two-game cushion over Penn and Columbia, which are tied at a 4–6 conference record, Yale needs to finish the season among the top-four seeds to earn a trip to the Palestra.
“We are going to come to practice [this week] ready to learn from our mistakes, and we made a lot of them,” Downey said after last weekend’s games. “It would be really important for us to get a win [at Harvard]. They are a great team and got us last time, so we [are] looking for a little revenge.”
Yale will take on Harvard on Friday at 7 p.m. in Cambridge before heading to Hanover for another 7 p.m. tipoff against Dartmouth.