Yale Athletics

The Yale men’s basketball team held a lead for less than two minutes in its first two games of the nonconference season. But on Tuesday night, in their home opener, the Bulldogs returned the favor against another navy-clad team of Bulldogs, South Carolina State, with an 86–54 thrashing.

In an explosive showing, guard Miye Oni ’20 erupted for 19 of his 20 points in the first half to lead the Elis (1–2, 0–0 Ivy) after Creighton and Wisconsin’s defenders largely shut him down in the season’s first two games. Yale’s fluid ball movement translated into open looks from long range, and the home Bulldogs capitalized — especially in the first half — hitting nine of 16 3-point attempts and shooting 65 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes of play. With a decisive advantage on the glass and stout defense, Yale dominated from the outset against an overmatched South Carolina State (0–3, 0–0 MEAC) team, conceding just five points in the first seven and a half minutes of action.

“We were a little bit better defensively in this game than we have been in our previous two,” head coach James Jones said. “Some of that’s due to the opponents that we have played against — Wisconsin and Creighton were some really good opponents — but we need to continue to improve in that area. We did a good job at sharing the ball … and our guys are looking for each other, which is really important.”

Oni’s first field-goal attempt, a turnaround jumper from the foul line, rolled in; from that point, the 6-foot-7 sophomore was nearly unstoppable. He connected from beyond the arc to give the hosts an 8–2 lead, then immediately stole the ball back. After a Blake Reynolds ’19 steal, Oni hit a fadeaway, then drained another three ball to give Yale a 13–2 lead before the first media timeout.

With over seven minutes left to play in the first half, Oni had already matched his total scoring output in the team’s first two losses, and the Elis were ahead 35–10. He shot a combined 6–22 against Creighton and Wisconsin.

“I just wanted to come out aggressive,” Oni said. “I thought I was too passive in the first two games, and it hurt our team, so I just wanted to ramp up the energy and come out aggressive from the start.”

While Reynolds carried the offense in the team’s first two contests, averaging 16 points per game, South Carolina State held the junior forward without a field goal until 8:23 remained in the game. Forward Noah Yates ’18 had one of his best performances as a Bulldog, tallying 10 of his 16 points in the second half on top of six rebounds off the bench. Yates appeared in just 11 games last season.

Injuries have decimated Yale’s starting lineup and frontcourt depth, providing Yates an opportunity to play more minutes. Three players — captain and guard Makai Mason ’18, guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 and forward Austin Williams ’20 — are sidelined with foot injuries and were wearing boots on Tuesday night, and forward Jordan Bruner ’20 was on crutches after undergoing season-ending surgery for a torn meniscus.

Yates himself suffered a brief scare when he exited the game late in the first half after banging knees with a South Carolina State player. The senior returned, however, and played 11 minutes in the second half without an issue.

“We have the mentality of next man up [after] Makai and Jordan went down,” Yates said. “So other people have to step up. Make the most of your opportunities, play hard and do what you can to help the team.”

A bevy of Elis contributed scoring behind Oni and Yates, as seven players notched at least five points. Guards Eric Monroe ’20 and Azar Swain ’21 both totaled eight points apiece in the victory.

Rebounding and ball movement have long been cornerstones of James Jones’ program, which was on display at JLA. The Elis assisted on 17 of their 25 baskets and posted a plus-13 rebounding margin. Starting point guard Alex Copeland ’19 totaled six assists to lead the team in dishes, alongside five points.

Yale’s defense limited the visitors — who also suffered a blowout loss to Wisconsin earlier  this season — to under 30 percent shooting and only 22 first-half points. Damani Applewhite led South Carolina State with 13 points, a showing punctuated by an alley-oop dunk off an inbounds pass midway through the second half.

The southern Bulldogs played evenly with their northern counterparts in the second frame, employing full-court pressure to force 22 Yale turnovers. The Elis’ 3-point shooting went cold in the final 20 minutes with only four makes in 21 attempts.

“We didn’t have great poise handling their pressure, and that’s something where we haven’t put a lot of stuff in against pressure yet [in practice],” Jones said. “Our post defense has got to improve. We’ve got to be better at the basket — they have some really good guys inside, strong, wide bodies, [but] we did a good job at digging down and getting them off their balance tonight.”

The Elis will take on Albany on Friday on the road and return to New Haven for a Sunday afternoon bout with Curry.

Steven Rome | steven.rome@yale.edu