For a while, it did not feel like a 17-point win for the Yale men’s basketball team. In front of a sparse Wednesday-night crowd, the Elis bookended a quiet middle portion of the game with a blistering start and a poised finish, winning their fifth game of the season to surpass the 0.500 mark.
The Bulldogs (5–4, 0–0 Ivy) emerged with an 84–67 victory over Bryant (1–6, 0–0 Northeast) for their second straight double-digit win, once again on the back of selfless ball movement. With 24 assists on 31 field goals, the Elis shot 55 percent from the floor and foisted a balanced offense on their visitors, with five scorers notching at least nine points. Forward Blake Reynolds ’18 led the team with 18 points on 4–5 shooting from three, emblematic of Yale’s continued reliance on outside shooting. On Wednesday, the Elis hit 13 of their 26 long-range attempts.
“We’re continuing to show improvement,” head coach James Jones said. “I thought that Bryant probably could not shoot the ball any better than they did — a lot of shots they made were well-contested, and they went in and that’s a credit to them … But I thought we were gritty and we kept fighting. Offensively, I thought there were some possessions that we took off in terms of not running great offense, but those are continuing to decrease.”
Echoing its Monday win over Delaware, Yale came out hot on offense, and the Elis pulled ahead of Bryant 15–5 in the first four minutes with 3–3 shooting from beyond the arc. Yale’s use of backdoor cuts and quick passing decimated the Bryant defense, resulting in five assists on its first six field goals and an effortless early lead.
But Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea — a former assistant at Yale for two years — quickly shifted his defense to a 2–3 zone, hoping to bait the Elis into settling for long jumpers. Yale seemed content to oblige, hoisting three consecutive misses from deep in one possession, after grabbing two offensive rebounds. Following a perfect start from three-point land, the Elis soon cooled down, connecting on just one of their next six attempts from downtown.
Although forward Noah Yates ’18 drained three 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes — the third of which extended Yale’s lead to 34–20 — Bryant finished the half on a 15–7 run. The Elis struggled to get into a rhythm penetrating the paint, especially against the zone. In some sets, all five Yale players stood outside the 3-point arc, and the Elis sorely missed the reliable post presence they had last season in forward Sam Downey ’17.
“We were trying to get the ball inside,” Jones said of his game plan against the zone, “but there was so much freedom on the perimeter. It’s hard to tell Blake Reynolds when he’s wide open, ‘Don’t take that shot; make sure we look inside before we do.’ We got a lot of open looks, and we knocked down a bunch of them to start.”
Compared to Yale, which had eight players contribute to its 41-point first half, Bryant had just three players combine for its 35 points. Guard Adam Grant continued a stellar sophomore campaign, in which he has averaged 17.5 points per game to lead his team, and scored 11 points in the first 20 minutes. His backcourt partner, Ikenna Ndugba, also dropped 10 points before the start of the second half.
But the game-changer for Bryant — which had won just one of its first six games — was its lone senior starter, forward Bosko Kostur, who poured 14 points on the Elis to lead all scorers at the break. He missed just one of six shots and made four threes to keep his team in the game, after Yale led Bryant by 15 early in the first half.
The midweek affair proved much more competitive in the second half, as the Yale offense sputtered with several turnovers to begin the final 20 minutes. Bryant drew within two points of the Elis twice in the early goings, as it presented a more balanced offensive attack. In the end, however, Yale proved resilient and closed the game on a 32–17 run. Through hot and cold patches from deep, the Elis stayed committed to their long-range shooting and mustered a well-earned victory.
First-year forward Wyatt Yess ’21 proved the exception to the rule, however, as he came in off the bench to provide a spark of energy and establish a presence inside. In just 11 minutes, Yess tallied six points, four rebounds and three assists, breathing life into a stagnant Yale team. Buoyed by the rookie’s inspired play, the Elis overcame their middle-of-the-game lull and closed out the affair with a comfortable lead.
“I think we just really came together as a team there,” Reynolds said. “We made a big step at Delaware the other night playing with a lot of intensity, knowing we had to get stops. When it really mattered in this one, we came together and got the stops we needed and started playing at the pace we wanted to play at. At halftime, we were playing into their style of basketball, and we had to fight the urge to do that.”
Yale’s next game will take place in Fort Worth, Texas against No. 23 TCU.
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