With 2:07 left to play in Yale’s Ivy League opener against Brown University in Providence, the Bulldogs commanded a 67–58 advantage, their largest lead of the game. The back-and-forth horserace, which featured eight lead changes and six ties to that point, looked like it was finally decided.
And then it wasn’t. Brown (12–5, 0–1 Ivy) forward Tamenang Choh tipped in a missed layup by teammate Zach Hunsaker; guard Brandon Anderson drove for two and guard David Mitchell double-teamed guard Miye Oni ’20 to force a jump ball. The sequence set up a successful corner three for the Bears’ starting point guard Obi Okolie to trim Yale’s (11–3, 1–0) lead to one with 15 seconds left in the match.
It would take a half-court Hail Mary assist from forward Blake Reynolds ’19 to a striding Oni — and two missed threes on the next Bears possession — to seal a 70–67 Bulldog victory and extend the Elis’ winning streak to seven. Yale’s game-saving possession, which secured its sixth straight win in conference openers, lasted just 1.8 seconds.
“That’s a play we run a lot,” Oni said. “We usually don’t get the long ball because a lot of times the wings don’t come up fast enough, but we actually weren’t trying to get that pass [to me]. We were trying to get it to Alex [Copeland ’19] for free throws. Blake saw me open, just threw it and trusted me. We work on that in practice every time.”
Both teams battled throughout the game, trading leads and momentum. After a monstrous block by Brown’s leading scorer, guard Desmond Cambridge, on Copeland less than a minute into the contest, Yale settled in, claiming an early lead in a fast-paced start to the first half. The Bulldogs turned three Bears turnovers into seven points within the first five minutes of the game, a span in which both teams were shooting over 50 percent from the field.
Each side cooled for the rest of the half, converting baskets with nearly identical success by the end of the first stanza — Yale’s field goal percentage stood at 41.7, while Brown’s was 41.2. Although the Bulldogs maintained a slim lead for the majority of the half, Brown appeared confident and filled with energy in front of its hometown crowd of 1,363 at the Pizzitola Sports Center.
Minimized during the first half — and much of the game — was Brown star Cambridge, whose 18.1 points per game still rank third in the Ivy League. Guard Trey Phills ’19 played stifling defense on the NBA prospect, limiting him to just seven total points on three for 18 shooting. Cambridge air-balled a three-point attempt in the first half and was the victim of a thunderous Oni slam with seconds to go in the period. Phills said he tried to wear down Cambridge, who also finished with four fouls and eight rebounds, over the course of the game.
“Trey Phills did an amazing job, and Miye and Jalen Gabbidon [’21] who guarded him [too] did a great job of staying in front and making him take tough shots,” head coach James Jones said. “He’s a tough shot maker, and he’s probably the best tough shot taker I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It’s hard to do that consistently, and we just wanted to make sure that every one he got was hard.”
Paced by forward Tamenang Choh’s 18 points and 16 rebounds, the Bears frequently double-teamed the Bulldogs on the perimeter, collecting ten steals in the game. Choh also showed off his handles, dribbling through two Eli defenders and running the length of the floor on a play in the first half for a one-handed dunk attempt. He could not convert the slam, but still got an ovation as he jogged back to play defense.
Yale found more success from the field after the break, shooting an improved 56 percent in the second half. Guard Azar Swain ’21 hit two clutch three-pointers, while Hunsaker caught fire for the Bears to start the period, contributing two steals and eight points on perfect shooting. The charge he drew on Copeland especially energized head coach Mike Martin and the Brown bench, who stood up to greet him when Cambridge entered as a substitute with 12:41 left to play.
The Elis meanwhile demonstrated their versatility across the lineup, as all nine players who saw the floor grabbed at least one board. Copeland scored a team-high of only 14 points, but of Yale’s core group of seven key contributors, they all tallied at least six. Oni, Reynolds and forward Paul Atkinson ’21 joined Copeland in scoring double figures, as each totalled 11. Forward Jordan Bruner ’20 led the team with 11 rebounds.
“I think we were gritty down the stretch,” Phills said. “We obviously didn’t hold on to that lead at the end like we wanted, but when it mattered, we came up with some big stops and big rebounds.”
A handful of NBA scouts travelled to Providence for the matchup. A duo from the Golden State Warriors organization scribbled notes throughout the game, and two scouts from the Boston Celtics, as well as an NBA Intel Scout, received seat assignments on press row.
Brown will visit New Haven this Friday for the second leg of the teams’ home-and-home series to begin Ivy play.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org .