Courtesy of Steve Musco
Winning nine of its last 10 games, the Yale men’s basketball team has brought its hot shooting and high-scoring offense into 2019 and through the end of nonconference play — ending the first portion of its season with the program’s highest win percentage since the 1991–92 season.
After defeating Albany 71–63 on Dec. 11 before a break for final exams, Yale (10–3, 0–0 Ivy) has tallied consecutive wins over Monmouth, Iona, Kennesaw State, Cal State Northridge and Division III Skidmore — scoring more than 90 points in three of those matchups. Guard Miye Oni ’20, who scored his 1,000th career point last week against Skidmore, and forward Jordan Bruner ’20, who has ascended to the top of Ivy League leaderboards with 8.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, continue to pace a deep offense.
“We have a lot of weapons,” guard Alex Copeland ’19 said. “We have a lot of guys that are capable of giving you 20 points. Being so deep and dynamic in that way makes us a really scary team. It’s really hard for a team to key in on one individual player. We have so many guys that can produce and put the ball in the basket.”
Fellow starters Copeland, forward and captain Blake Reynolds ’19 and guard Trey Phills ’19 also figure prominently among a cohort of seven Elis who have emerged as the team’s key contributors over the course of nonconference play. Forward Paul Atkinson ’21 and guard Azar Swain ’21 round out the group, all of whom average more than 20 minutes and seven points a game.
Yale features five players who average double digits in scoring, more than any other team in the Ivy League thus far. The Bulldogs also comfortably lead the conference with 84.1 points per game, which ranks 22nd among Division I programs in the country. The next highest-scoring Ivy squads are Columbia and Brown, who both average only 76.5 points a game.
“Coach [James] Jones has really been stressing the importance of sharing the ball,” Phills said. “We do have a really high assist rate, and we’ve gotten out in transition a lot. Those two things have led to high-scoring games.”
Indeed, despite boasting weapons such as Oni — who possess the ability to create their own shots when needed — the Bulldogs have been more than willing to share the ball. Yale leads the Ancient Eight with 19.2 assists per game, a figure that ranks seventh in the country. In addition to Bruner’s league-high 4.3 assists per game, six other Elis average more than one per game. Oni’s 3.8 per game and Copeland’s 3.3 also currently rank among the top 10 in the conference.
The Elis’ road trips to New Jersey and Southern California over the final stretch of nonconference play posed the greatest challenges. In a game full of runs, the Bulldogs won 66–58 at Monmouth (3–14, 2–2 MAAC) behind three crucial, second-half triples from Swain and 20 points from Oni.
Yale’s trip to Los Angeles marked a homecoming for Copeland, guard Michael Feinberg ’22 and Oni, a native of the city’s Northridge neighborhood. In front of family and friends, the Bulldogs battled with Cal State Northridge (8–10, 2–0 Big West) in an overtime thriller. Despite leading the Matadors in nearly every statistical category and leading by three with just 2.7 seconds to play, Yale could not capture the win in regulation. CSUN forward Lamine Diane, who would finish with 15 rebounds and a career-high 35 points, heaved up a deep, turnaround three-pointer that found the bottom of the net as time expired.
“We knew they had talent,” Oni said. “They’re an up-and-down team, but when they get hot, they can play with about anyone. We definitely had some things we could’ve sured up in that game — we could’ve packed in the paint and played defense better. We scored fine, just didn’t defend well.”
Able to overcome Diane’s second-half heroics for the Matadors, the Elis notched the first seven points in the extra period to escape the West Coast with a narrow 94–90 victory.
Three days later, Oni scored his 1,000th career point on a fast-break dunk early in the first half against Skidmore, becoming the school’s 28th player to reach the milestone and the first since forward Justin Sears ’16, who also surpassed the landmark as a junior. Yale would ultimately handle Skidmore with ease in a 88–59 thrashing of the Thoroughbreds. All 18 Elis on the roster saw action while 13 logged points and six scored in double figures. Yale also held Skidmore to just 35.9 percent shooting from the field and forced 15 turnovers.
In the midst of an 11-day break before the start of Ivy League play, Yale begins conference action this Saturday when the Elis travel to Providence to take on Brown.
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