Only two teams finished above Miami in last year’s ACC regular season standings: top eight national seeds Virginia and Duke.
But on Saturday night, Yale (3–2, 0–0 Ivy) defeated the Hurricanes (5–3, 0–0 ACC) 77–73 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, riding an 18–5 run to overcome a deficit that grew as large as 15 in the second half. Guard Miye Oni ’20, named the game’s most valuable player, scored a career-high 29 points and added six rebounds, while West Palm Beach native and forward Paul Atkinson ’21 netted 17. Entering the weekend, KenPom rankings listed Miami as the nation’s 29th best team.
“It was a great team effort,” Oni said. “We all banded together and dug in deep to get the win. Honestly, it was just my teammates trusting me and me trusting them to all make plays down the stretch and get the job done.”
Competing in their fifth consecutive game on the road, the Elis demonstrated veteran composure down the stretch, playing cohesive basketball in front of 5,749 fans. With one minute and 90 seconds left in the game, two Oni free throws allowed the Bulldogs to regain a lead that had evaded them for more than 27 consecutive minutes. Yale maintained the advantage through the final whistle, making two stops on defense and collecting a crucial offensive rebound from forward Jordan Bruner ’20 with 15 seconds remaining to seal the victory at 77–73.
Yale and Miami traded baskets for much of the first half. The Bulldogs strayed from the deep shooting that animated most of their early season success, especially Wednesday night’s win at Bryant — a game in which Yale shot 15–24 on three-pointers. Instead, the Elis started the game by making passes around the perimeter and finding holes to exploit inside. Their first 12 points of the game, which included four dunks, all came in the paint.
When Yale head coach James Jones relegated big men Bruner and captain and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 to the bench with two first-half fouls apiece, the team’s inside game dissolved and the Canes turned a slim advantage into a 10-point lead. Despite launching a relatively few number of attempts, the Bulldogs suffered from an uncharacteristic inability to hit the deep ball.
Although they entered the game with the nation’s fourth-best three-point field goal percentage at 45.7, Yale missed 14 of 18 attempted threes in the game, including six of seven from deep in the first half. Its three-point success rate this season fell to 41.8 percent by the end of the night, but the team continues to lead the Ivy League with a 51.5 field goal percentage.
“You have to credit Miami,” guard Azar Swain ’21 said. “They had a good game plan to slow down our threes and hug some of our shooters. But the special thing about our team is that we are deep with talent, and when you try to take away one weapon all the way, you allow other weapons to get going. Miye was able to attack the basket anytime he wanted with all of the open gaps from them trying to prevent our threes, and it ended up working in our favor.”
Miami led Yale 49–39 at halftime, having outrebounded the Elis 19–9. Junior guard DJ Vasiljevic contributed 14 points and five rebounds in only 12 minutes off the bench in the first half, while Oni kept Yale close. With NBA scouts in the stands, he missed only one shot in the first half, scoring 17 points in 18 minutes.
The Elis emerged from the locker room refocused and rebound hungry. An 11–2 advantage on the boards early in the second helped Yale cut the Canes’ lead to 57–55 after a 14–1 run. Yale finished the half with 12 more rebounds than Miami, also limiting its opponent to a 30.3 field goal percentage and an 8.3 three-point shooting percentage in the second frame.
“At halftime we knew that the two things we had to do better were patience on offense — taking better shots — and getting rebounds,” guard Trey Phills ’19 said. “We were minus- on the boards in the first half and finished plus-two for the game. Those rebounds took away a lot of second-chance points that they capitalized on in the first half.”
Junior forward and Miami native Dewan Hernandez, whom the NCAA is investigating for his relationship with an agent whose name appeared in the FBI’s college basketball corruption trial, missed his eighth straight game for the Hurricanes. The team’s leading big man, the 6-foot-11-inch power forward, remains out indefinitely.
Miami, however, found production from other bigs. Senior center Ebuka Izundu and redshirt freshman forward Deng Gak, both 6 foot, 10 inches, made their presence known in the paint. On the night, the duo combined for 12 rebounds, four blocks and 24 points on nine of 13 shooting from the field.
Yale’s own trio of Atkinson, Bruner and Reynolds contributed a total of 38 points and 14 rebounds. Reynolds hit two key three-pointers in the second half, while Atkinson scored two of his five second-half baskets on sharp passes from Bruner who, alongside guard Alex Copeland ’19, led Yale with four assists.
Returning home to New Haven, the Elis will next play host to Lehigh (5–2, 0–0 Patriot) in their first home game of the season. The Mountain Hawks soar into Connecticut fresh off of a 12-point victory against Arkansas State that saw 6-foot-3-inch guard Kyle Leufroy lead with 20 points, two assists, two steals and a block. Leufroy, along with forward Pat Andree, average 14.7 points per game, spearheading the Lehigh offense.
The Mountain Hawks also clashed with Miami earlier in the season in a contest that saw the Hurricanes dominate in a 21-point blowout. The team’s other loss came in a 77–58 defeat to now No. 12 Kansas State. Lehigh is undefeated against fellow mid-major opponents this season, but the Bulldogs will look to use the home-opening crowd and familiar setting to maintain momentum and walk away with another tally in the win column.
The Bulldogs tip off against the Mountain Hawks this Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in John J. Lee Amphitheater. The first 250 fans will receive free Yale socks.
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