Courtesy of Steve Musco
The Yale men’s basketball team left Cambridge on Friday in a foreign situation for a James Jones–coached group; the losers of four straight conference games, the two-time defending champion Bulldogs had been eliminated from title contention.
After falling to Harvard for the second time in three weeks, the team’s chances of qualifying for the four-team Ivy Tournament were suddenly in doubt. Yet Yale bounced back on Saturday, breaking out of its offensive funk to overcome Dartmouth and putting itself a win away from punching its ticket to the Palestra for the conference playoff.
A day before taking on Dartmouth (6–19, 3–9 Ivy), the Elis (15–10, 7–5) shot just 39.6 percent from the field and shot just 3–14 from the three-point line in a 77–64 loss to the Crimson (18–7, 10–2). The offense erupted on Saturday against the Big Green, with guards Miye Oni ’20 and Alex Copeland ’19 dropping a combined 50 points to lead the Bulldogs to a 99–86 victory.
“We are certainly capable of playing better than we have in the last month,” head coach James Jones said. “Teams go through those stretches, and it’s not great for us to go through it right now. We had a really good first half against Harvard, and we played two really good halves offensively against Dartmouth. We hope to turn that into more success next weekend.”
Yale started out strong in Cambridge, riding a 12–0 run with 10 minutes left in the half to an eventual three-point halftime lead. Yale had an opportunity to seize all the momentum entering the locker room but struggled in the closing minutes. Harvard guard Bryce Aiken, who scored 27 points against Yale at John J. Lee Amphitheater on Feb. 11, scored five of Harvard’s final nine points of the half to tighten the game.
Aiken did not lose stride after coming out of the locker room, finishing with 22 points while going 5–8 from beyond the arc over 40 minutes. Fourteen of his points came in the second half, as the freshman electrified the arena with several step-back threes.
“As we’ve seen, he can create a lot,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. “He’s very crafty and dynamic with the ball.”
Thanks to Aiken and three-time first-team All-Ivy guard Siyani Chambers, Harvard opened the second half on a 15–4 run and never looked back. Turnovers and missed free throws doomed the Bulldogs throughout the night, as they gave the ball away 17 times and missed seven shots from the charity stripe.
Rebounding was one of the lone bright spots for the Elis, who lead the Ivy League in cleaning up on the glass. Yale grabbed five more rebounds than the Crimson and held Harvard without an offensive rebound in the first half.
“If you rebound like we have and don’t turn it over, you have a much better chance at winning because you have all those extra possessions,” Jones said. “All that work we did on the glass we just gave it back with the turnovers.”
The play of forward Sam Downey ’17 has been a highlight all season, and the senior was again dependable this weekend. Downey scored 15 points against Harvard and 10 against Dartmouth; his 10 first-half points and nine first-half rebounds on Friday night put the senior one rebound shy of having a double-double in both first halves against Harvard this season.
Copeland was also consistent for Yale throughout the weekend, even when the offense stagnated against Harvard. Yale’s sixth man led the team with 20 points against the Crimson before scoring another 23 in Hanover. Amaker called Copeland Yale’s “X-factor” after his team’s victory over the Bulldogs.
Against Dartmouth, Yale watched another halftime lead slip away, just as it had on Friday night. Although captain and guard Anthony Dallier ’17 and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 got the Bulldogs going with 13 first-half points apiece, it was Oni and Copeland who led the comeback after the Big Green took a 58–57 lead four minutes into the second half. The pair of Eli guards scored a combined 33 points in the final 15 minutes and fueled the offense to the Ivy League’s highest scoring output of the conference season.
Neither team played much defense in the contest, as Yale ceded 27 points to Dartmouth’s star forward Evan Boudreaux. However, Yale counteracted the Big Green’s big man with lights out shooting, sinking half of their 22 three-pointers on Saturday night, including 5–8 in the second half. Oni went four-for-five from beyond the arc on the night. Yale also turned the ball over just seven times on the night, less than half their giveaways against Harvard, while forcing 14 Dartmouth turnovers.
“We’ve had a rough stretch,” Oni said. “It was good to come into Hanover and get the win to build our morale and get us going through next week where we need two more big wins before the tournament.”
Yale’s Saturday win marked a memorable night for the Bulldogs on several fronts. In addition to setting the team up to secure its place at the four-team conference tournament, Oni’s and Copeland’s scoring both equaled or set career highs. In addition, the win over the Big Green solidified Yale’s class of 2017, comprised of Downey and Dallier, as the winningest class in Yale basketball history.
Yale finishes up the regular season at home next weekend against Cornell and Columbia on Friday and Saturday night.