It has been quite the month for Yale men’s basketball, whose first seven games of the season have taken the Bulldogs around the world to Shanghai, Memphis, Miami and Durham.
For the past two weekends, the Elis have had to wake up before 4 a.m., embarking on road trips to play the Hurricanes and Blue Devils. And playing at home against Albany Tuesday night, Yale’s fatigue showed, even though the team was ultimately able to pull out a victory.
Despite a sluggish start in both halves, forwards Jordan Bruner ’20 and Paul Atkinson ’21 carried the Elis (5–3, 0–0 Ivy) with career performances, allowing Yale to defeat the visiting Great Danes (3–7, 0–0 America East) 71–63. Bruner notched career-bests with 12 rebounds and eight assists, while Atkinson matched his career-high with 20 points on nine of 12 shooting from the field.
“[Atkinson] was definitely a great boost for us,” head coach James Jones said. “We came out a little lackluster. We had a practice like that the other day — we’ve logged a lot of miles, we got back late after a snowstorm … then we had to practice on Monday in preparation for this game. It wasn’t a great practice, and practice kind of looked like most of the game did today.”
The Elis missed nine consecutive field goals to start the contest, as three-point attempts from forward and captain Blake Reynolds ’19, guard Trey Phills ’19 and Bruner could not find the bottom of the net, rolling around the rim before falling into the hands of Great Dane defenders. And Albany jumped to a 7–0 lead.
At four minutes and 50 seconds into the game, Bruner made a free throw to give Yale its first point. Its first field goal, a layup from Atkinson, wouldn’t come until 13:28 remained in the half. Down 9–3 at that point, Yale continued to rely on early contributions from the 6-foot-10-inch forward, who scored six of the Elis’ first nine points. He would finish the half with 11 points on five of seven shooting from the field.
Led by Bruner, the Elis assisted on 10 of their 13 first-half field goals. After collecting a defensive rebound — of which he had seven in the first half — the 6-foot-9-inch South Carolina native often pushed the ball onto Albany’s half, at one point finding a cutting Reynolds and guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 for easy scores on consecutive fast-break possessions. Collecting Bruner’s pass, Gabbidon rose for a two-handed dunk that tied the game at 18 and energized fans at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
“That gives us a little bit of spark when I can get the ball off the rim and everybody just takes off,” Bruner said. “I think that’s probably one of my best attributes — how well I can see the floor and how well I can get other people involved.”
As the first half continued, Yale continued to take advantage of the momentum. Within a span of just over seven minutes, the Elis moved into a 21–4 run, flipping a 16–9 Albany advantage into a 10-point Yale lead with 1:52 left to play in the frame. The Bulldogs led 32–22 at halftime.
Albany cut the deficit early in the second half when forward Devonte Campbell, forward Adam Lulka and guard Cameron Healy hit a trio of jump shots to decrease Yale’s lead to two at 33–31. But Yale regained its composure behind scores from classmates Reynolds and Phills. With 12:35 left in the game, the Elis expanded their lead to 10 once again with a sweet give and go; cutting to the hoop after his pass, Phills found Bruner with a bounce pass under the hoop. Bruner gave the ball right back, and the athletic 6-foot-2-inch guard launched for a powerful two-handed slam.
The Bulldogs maintained a 10-point advantage for much of the remaining game, trading baskets with the Great Danes. Healy, who entered the matchup leading the America East with an average of 3.4 three-point field goals per game, hit his first three with 16:12 left in the contest. He would finish the game with a team-high 15 points.
Atkinson, meanwhile, continued to contribute points from the paint. He increased his season field goal percentage to a team-high 69.6 percent, which also ranks second in the Ivy League. As a first year, he led the Ancient Eight with a 69.2 field goal percentage last season.
“We literally did just enough to beat this team,” Atkinson said. “I feel like we did have a tough travel schedule, and we have exams coming up, but we definitely needed to fight through that, and today we just barely got it done.”
Yale shot nine for 22 from the free throw line against Albany, a statistic Jones thought was most indicative of the team’s weariness. Prior to Tuesday night’s win, their season-low at the charity stripe came in the season opener against California when the Bulldogs shot 68 percent from the line.
Guard Miye Oni ’20, whose 17.9 points per game lead Yale and rank third in the conference, missed Tuesday night’s game with an illness. Gabbidon started in his place, joining the starting five for the first time in only his fifth career appearance. The sophomore guard missed all of last season with a broken foot.
Oni, dressed in gray Pac-12 China Game sweats, joined the team on the bench, advising teammates during media timeouts and remaining a vocal force for the team. Guard Eric Monroe ’20, who was also sidelined due to illness, similarly encouraged teammates as coaches talked strategy amongst themselves during the beginning of media timeouts.
Following the win against Albany, Yale will not play another game for nine days. The team is currently preparing to take exams, which begin Thursday night and continue until Wednesday, Dec. 19. Despite the increased academic workload, Jones said he looks forward to the rest of the season with his players.
“I think that if this was a court of law, I might be accused of child abuse in terms of what I’ve done to my guys and all the travel that we’ve had,” Jones said when asked about the schedule Yale has endured in the season’s first month.
The Bulldogs return to the hardwood on Dec. 20 when they face Monmouth in New Jersey.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org .