Courtesy of Steve Musco
Immediately following tipoff, Yale established its dominance in a Bulldog-Bulldog battle Wednesday night.
The Elis (2–2, 0–0 Ivy) scored 15 three-pointers, one shy of the school record, in a 103–61 thrashing of the neighboring Bryant Bulldogs (1–5, 0–0 Northeast). After unleashing a phenomenal offensive outburst in which they shot 59.1 percent from the field, Yale will now travel to South Beach where it will take on Miami (5–2, 0–0 ACC) in the Air Force Reserve Hoophall Miami Invitational Saturday night.
“It’ll be fun,” guard Trey Phills ’19 said. “We just want to play our brand of basketball. We feel like we can play with a lot of people — nearly anybody in the country — so we just need to focus on us. It’s not really about our opponents. Win or lose, we just want to take baby steps. All this nonconference stuff is training for the regular season.”
Playing 80 miles away from New Haven in Smithfield, Rhode Island, the Bulldogs capitalized on a remarkable 62.5 percent three-point shooting percentage, their highest since a 70–64 win at Sacred Heart on Dec. 30, 2014. Coming off the resounding victory, Yale’s 45.7 three-point percentage this season now ranks first in the Ivy League.
Yale seemed to do everything right as they viciously out-rebounded the Rhode Island Bulldogs by 13 and held their opponent to a measly 33.3 percent from the field. Surpassing the combined assist total against their two most recent competitors — Memphis and Vermont — the Elis accumulated a season-high 29 assists on 39 buckets.
“We knew going in that the Bryant game would be an opportunity for us to make a statement on the defensive end,” captain and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 said. “Lots of guys on our team stepped up to make huge unselfish plays on defense, which led to us sharing the ball and executing well on the offensive end as well.”
Gritty team play headlined the mid-week matchup, and contributions from nearly the entire roster translated to the stat sheet. Forward Jordan Bruner ’20 led the way with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. Guards Miye Oni ’20 and Azar Swain ’21, who was playing just 50 minutes west of his hometown Brockton, Massachusetts, both contributed 15 points. Swain’s five for six three-point night sent his season percentage to 57.7 — the third-highest among Ancient Eight players this season.
The blowout victory allowed Yale to spread minutes around its entire roster. Out of the 16 Yale players that entered the game, 13 of them tallied points. The team’s 44 bench points were nearly four times that of Bryant’s 12.
“We’re emphasizing our ball control, making sure we don’t turn it over,” Oni said. “Bryant likes to play a junk zone and likes to pressure the ball, and Miami too, they pressure the ball a lot.”
However, this Saturday night, the Elis will face a much tougher test against Miami. Last year, the Hurricanes finished the regular season tied for third in the ACC, finishing behind juggernauts Virginia and Duke. Miami has made the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in each of the last three seasons, though they were the first casualty in 11-seed Loyola-Chicago’s improbable Final Four run last March.
The Hurricanes welcome the Bulldogs to the 21,000-seat American Airlines Arena Saturday night for the Hoophall Miami Invitational, an annual three-game showcase sponsored by The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Air Force Reserve.
Miami’s athletic sophomore guard Chris Lykes will likely seek to take control of the game from its outset. The five-foot-seven-inch star, who was the tied for the shortest player in last year’s NCAA tournament, leads the way with 17.7 points, 2.1 steals, 3.4 assists and three rebounds per game. However, Lykes has had trouble taking care of the ball, notching 22 turnovers on the season. The Bulldogs will look to exploit his haphazard playmaking and score on fast breaks.
Yale will also attempt to key in on sharpshooting guard DJ Vasiljevic, who has shot a scorching 47.8 percent from beyond the three-point arc through seven games. Last season the Melbourne, Australia, native led the ACC in three-point percentage after hitting 67 of his 163 attempts.
Defensively, the Hurricanes have attempted to suffocate opponents, averaging a solid 6.9 takeaways per game. Yale, who is currently looking to improve after a difficult start to its 2018–19 out-of-conference slate, will focus on limiting turnovers against Miami’s sticky hands.
“Our main goal in the quick turnaround is to just stay consistent with our energy and focus,” Swain said. “We have a chance to get a special victory on the road, and everybody is looking forward to the challenge.”
The contest against Miami in the Hoophall Miami Invitational, which also features matchups between St. Johns and Georgia Tech, Texas Tech and Memphis and NC State and Vanderbilt earlier in the day, tips off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
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