Coming off of an impressive win against Cal in the Pac-12’s annual China Game, the Yale men’s basketball team looked to gain momentum during an early-season road trip but only found heartbreak after falling to Memphis and Vermont in the span of five days.
The Bulldogs (1–2, 0–0 Ivy) packed their bags for a Thanksgiving break road trip that saw the team go toe-to-toe with Memphis (3–3, 0–0 AAC) and Vermont (3–3, 0–0 America East). Despite falling in both games — including an agonizing double-overtime loss to Penny Hardaway’s Tigers — Yale gained learning experiences and saw impressive performances from veteran guard Alex Copeland ’19 and first-year forward Isaiah Kelly ’22, giving the program positives heading into a busy nonconference slate before winter break.
“We learned that our success going forward is going to be dependent on if we can come together as a team on defense and limit other team’s opportunities,” captain and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 said. “Moving forward we will need to pick up our defensive energy and take care of the ball on offense.”
Despite Yale jumping out to a seven-point lead a few minutes into the first half, last Saturday’s matchup against the Tigers was a neck-and-neck affair throughout, featuring 16 lead changes and 13 ties.
The Elis had a chance to close out Memphis late in regulation. Up by just three points, guard Azar Swain ’21 — who leads Yale with 10 three-pointers this season on 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc — buried a three-point jump shot with just under two minutes to go. However, the six-point lead evaporated after missed free throws, Yale turnovers and Memphis clutch baskets.
Memphis Guard Tyler Harris missed a three-pointer with six seconds left in the second half, but after the Tigers secured the offensive rebound, guard Trey Phills ’19 fouled Harris on another three-point attempt with two seconds left. Harris’ free throws sent the game to its first overtime where Copeland caught fire for the Elis. He scored all of the team’s 13 points in the period, finishing the contest with 22 points in total.
The Tigers, however, refused to go down. Sparked by a crowd of 14,656 fans, they clawed back to tie the game and send it into a second overtime period where they scored nine unanswered points, amassing an insurmountable lead. As the clock struck zero on a gritty and well-fought contest, the score stood 109–102 in favor of Memphis. The game marked Yale’s first double overtime matchup since a 79–74 loss at Vanderbilt on Jan. 3, 2015.
“They put a lot of pressure on us not just with their press but with the way they guarded,” Copeland said. “Going into buildings like Duke, they’re going to put a lot of pressure on us. Having an experience like that is definitely going to help us going forward. Playing in arenas packed to the brim like that and playing in a double OT game that got really loud really tested our composure, and I think that experience will be valuable going forward.”
Four nights later, Yale fell in another close game at Vermont. Phills missed the contest with a sprained wrist, and Swain started in his place. The senior guard returned to practice on Sunday morning.
Although the Elis managed to stay out of foul trouble, tallying a mere 18 in comparison to the 40 they suffered at Memphis, a career-high 34 points from junior forward Anthony Lamb propelled the Catamounts. Lamb, the 2017 America East Rookie of the Year, scored six three-pointers, another career-high, while also contributing seven rebounds.
“I think we weren’t aggressive with him enough early,” guard Miye Oni ’20 said. “Our game plan was to limit his first shot and then be really aggressive with him, especially when he got into his post. He just got hot.”
Oni, meanwhile, led Yale with 18 points and 10 rebounds. First-year Kelly enjoyed his biggest game of the season, scoring 13 points in the first half to keep Yale on pace with Lamb’s 20 first-half points. At halftime, Vermont led 40–37.
The Catamounts — who lost last year’s America East championship game to the UMBC team that would upset one-seed Virginia in the NCAA tournament — began the second half on a 16–4 run. Redshirt senior guard Ernie Duncan complemented Lamb with 12 points on three three-pointers in the second half.
The Elis will travel to Rhode Island to face Bryant on Wednesday night.
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