James Jones could not have drawn it up any better.
With under five seconds remaining and the Yale men’s basketball team trailing Brown by two, the head coach designed an alley-oop pass to guard Miye Oni ’20 to try to send the game to overtime. Oni curled around a series of picks, emerged free from the pursuit of Bears defenders and elevated to receive the pass from inbounder forward Blake Reynolds ’19.
But as the clock ticked down, Oni’s layup rolled off the front rim, and the Bulldogs (8–10, 1–1 Ivy) lost to the Brown (8–7, 1–1 Ivy) for the first time in four seasons, 81–80.
“A one-point loss hurts,” guard Trey Phills ’19 said. “We wanted to have less turnovers, and we really didn’t do that — I think we had 17 compared to 20 last game. The first weekend the ball bounced our way in the last couple minutes, and we got the win. But then this past weekend, the ball bounced their way, so it kind of leaves it up to chance when we don’t play our best.”
The missed layup was the culmination of a frustrating night for Oni, Yale’s leading scorer, who shot just 3–15 and 0–7 from 3-point range. Instead, guard Alex Copeland ’19 paced the Elis with a game-high 26 points, the last three of which came on a heave just past midcourt as time expired to narrow the margin of defeat to one point. Phills contributed an explosive 19 points on 8–9 shooting, one week after scoring a career-best 23 points in Yale’s conference-opening triumph over the Bears.
But in a highly contested game of 13 lead changes, these efforts fell just short. Brown guard Obi Okolie shut down Oni all night and made timely shots to pull the hosts ahead. Okolie hit a three from the top of the key to build a 75–72 lead and ultimately made the pair of free throws that put the Bears ahead for good.
This balance overcame a quiet game from electric sophomore guard Brandon Anderson, the second-leading scorer in the Ancient Eight and one of the best players in the country at getting to the free-throw line. Anderson shot just two free throws on the night and finished with 11 points.
Even without Anderson’s expected performance, Brown was able to score against Yale with relative ease for most of the game — standout first-year guard Desmond Cambridge led the Bears with 16 points after dropping 15 against the Elis a week ago. It was this inability to stop Brown’s multifaceted attack that eventually spelled doom for the Bulldogs.
Following last week’s 78–72 victory over Brown, Yale felt confident about its offensive execution, but Jones and his players echoed a need to play better team defense. This additional focus on the defensive end showed at times throughout this Friday’s contest, but not when it mattered the most.
With the game knotted up at 72–72, Brown scored on its next four possessions to put the game away.
“Offensively, we executed [down the stretch], and we hit some big shots,” Copeland said. “We ran our plays well, coach drew up some good plays, but it’s really just getting stops. We have to do a better job sitting down, locking up, and it falls on all of us.”
It did not help that the Bears entered into the bonus with eight minutes to play. As a result, Brown attempted 31 free throws against the Bulldogs for the second consecutive game, this time making six more than they made a week ago.
Apart from their improved free-throw shooting, the Bears also succeeded in erasing the advantages in the paint that the Elis enjoyed in the first matchup. Whereas Yale outrebounded Brown by 11 and recorded an 18-point edge in points in the paint last Friday, the Bears were outrebounded by just one and played even in points in the paint on their home court. Reynolds and forward Paul Atkinson ’21 were limited to a combined 11 points on 3–9 shooting.
Additionally, the Elis uncharacteristically tallied just six assists against Brown after averaging well over 17 assists per game over the course of their first 17 games. Much of Yale’s offense came from aggressive dribble penetration and great finishing from the two-pronged attack of Copeland and Phills.
Against Brown, Phills has strung together the most productive two-game stretch of his career. In the first matchup, the junior guard filled the box score with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and this past weekend he again proved more than capable on defense and offense.
However, Phills appeared to be bothered by a groin injury at the end of Friday’s game. In the final minutes of the contest, he called a timeout with Copeland initiating a play from the top of the key, and he appeared to walk around the court gingerly after a brief spell on the bench. Asked about the injury, Phills said that he expects to play next weekend.
“We gave up almost 50 points in the second half, and we’re not gonna beat anyone doing that, honestly,” Oni said. “The game came down to a couple of late plays which it shouldn’t have, and we have to get stops to be in the type of position we’re supposed to be against a team like that.”
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