After a four-game slide, the Yale men’s basketball team resurrected its high-powered offense and scored 99 points — the highest total by any Ivy League team in conference play this season — in a victory over Dartmouth last Saturday. The win gives the Bulldogs control over their own destiny, as the team needs just one win this weekend to clinch a berth in the inaugural four-team Ivy League Tournament.
The Bulldogs (15–10, 7–5 Ivy) fell to Harvard 77–64 last Friday, but atoned for the defeat with an offensive explosion in Hanover. Now, just Cornell (7–20, 3–9) and Columbia (11–14, 5–7) stand between Yale and the gates of the Palestra. Although the Elis will only miss the tournament in the event of a winless weekend on top of a 4–0 weekend record from Columbia and Penn, the Bulldogs will still benefit from accumulating some momentum heading into Philadelphia.
“Besides clinching, I think it’s just important that we take it one game at a time and continue to play together and with confidence,” forward Sam Downey ’17 said.
After soaring through the nonconference schedule as the top three-point shooting team in the league, Yale slipped to the bottom of the field from beyond the arc in Ivy play in the last six weeks. However, the Elis were able to regain their form against Dartmouth, shooting 57.1 percent from the field and making half of their 22 three-pointers. Four players scored more than 15 points for Yale, a testament to how difficult their offense can be to guard when the shots fall.
In particular, Yale’s trio of sharpshooters — guards Miye Oni ’20 and Anthony Dallier ’17 and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 — delivered for the Elis last Saturday, as they made a combined 11 three-pointers and scored 27, 17 and 15 points, respectively. Oni noted that he has had to adjust his offensive game as Ivy opponents have discovered how lethal he can be from beyond the arc.
“Teams are definitely trying to take away the three-point shot so I’ve worked with the coaches to mix up my overall game, and I think that has paid off,” Oni said.
The Bulldog shooters could have a big night against Columbia, as the Lions have allowed the most threes in the Ivy League, ceding 229 as compared to seventh-place Brown’s 211. In the previous matchup against Columbia, Yale had four players score more than 16 points and shot 45.5 percent from three in an 87–78 victory. While Yale is the top rebounding team in the Ivy League, the Lions’ third-ranked unit outrebounded the Elis 36–32 in that contest.
The Lions’ versatile forward Luke Petrasek, the fourth highest scorer in the Ancient Eight, tallied 24 in the Feb. 3 game. Petrasek, who leads Columbia in rebounding, blocks, points and three-pointers, will command the complete attention of the Eli defense. While Columbia does not attempt many threes, the Lions have the second-best percentage in the league from beyond the arc.
Before worrying about Petrasek, the Elis will need to get past the Big Red. Their first contest against Cornell on Feb. 4 was delayed just after tipoff due to a power outage and did not resume until Sunday. The Elis eventually took a 78–71 victory behind 34 points from two freshmen, Oni and forward Jordan Bruner ’20. Still, the Elis were outrebounded for the second time in that weekend, uncharacteristic of the 2016–17 Bulldogs squad. Neither team found a shooting rhythm, hitting a combined 18.9 percent of their threes. Twenty-four points off Cornell turnovers gave Yale the edge in a contest which saw 18 lead changes.
The Big Red’s offense revolves around guard Matt Morgan. Despite Cornell scoring the second-fewest points in the Ivy League, Morgan leads all Ivy players with 17.8 points per game. While Morgan was held to 11 in the last meeting, forward Stone Gettings managed 28 against the Eli defense. Cornell has also taken the most threes in the league, but sports the worst shooting conversion rate.
Guard Alex Copeland ’19 could provide the answer for the Bulldogs against Cornell. Although the sophomore had just eight points the first time the teams met, he is fresh off a 43-point weekend. Copeland showed off his lightning quick first step, scoring 20 points against Harvard and 23 against Dartmouth. He is second on the team in points, coming off the bench to average 13.0 a game.
The seniors Dallier and Downey, who have taken over several games this year, may also make the difference in the final home games of their collegiate careers. As a tandem, they will graduate as the winningest class in Yale basketball history.
“Between the two of them, I’ll remember their loyalty, focus and how much they’ve given to Yale basketball,” head coach James Jones said.
For the Bulldogs to reach the tournament, they need to avoid finishing in a three-way tie with Penn and Columbia with a 7–7 record. The Elis will command the third seed with a win over either opponent this weekend. Princeton and Harvard have secured the top two seeds heading to the Palestra. The fourth seed is still up for grabs.
Yale will take on Cornell on Friday night at John. J Lee Amphitheater at 7 p.m. before defending its home court against Columbia at 7 p.m. on Saturday.