At 11–3, Yale men’s basketball is off to its best start since the 1945–46 team won 13 of its first 14 matches.
Returning to New Haven after securing a win in their Ivy League opener, the Elis (11–3, 1–0 Ivy) will look to remain undefeated at home and extend their seven-game streak with a win against Brown (12–5, 0–1) — a team they narrowly defeated 70–67 last Saturday in Providence. A win in this Friday’s contest could add a historic footnote to this year’s memorable campaign, as head coach James Jones, in his 20th season at the helm, seeks his 300th career victory.
“I think it’s great for us when you win the first game obviously, and even when you lose it, it gives you a different purpose in practice,” Jones said. “Because now you know it was such a close game, we know that we have to play better, and we have their attention in practice to do that. It’s a really good thing for us to be able to play them again and to be able to go out and see if we can prove that we can beat them twice.”
Winning 10 of its last 11 games, Yale looks to sweep Brown for the fourth time in the past five years. The Elis have beat the Bears at home in eight straight seasons, and a sweep would allow Yale to gain distance from the rest of a competitive Ancient Eight as teams prepare to enter the brunt of conference play. Four other Ivy League programs — Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and Harvard — will join Yale and Brown in concluding home-and-home series with their respective travel partners this weekend.
In last weekend’s seesaw affair, neither of the two programs, which both boasted six-game winning streaks prior to the contest, could find separation from the other. In a game that featured eight lead changes and six ties, the Elis finally seemed to pull ahead, grabbing a nine-point lead, the game’s largest, with just over two minutes left to play.
But behind a succession of offensive rebounds, converted field goals and a corner three-pointer from guard Obi Okolie, the Bears raced back, decreasing the Yale lead to just a single point with 15 seconds to go. Captain and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 threw a half-court lob to guard Miye Oni ’20, who slammed home a two-handed dunk to increase the Bulldogs’ lead to three. On its subsequent possession, Brown missed two consecutive threes that would have tied the game, and the score cemented itself at 70–67.
“We got to close out games better, we’ve been doing it all year,” Oni said. “Adjustments will be made. From their side, they’re going to have a real busy week of practice. I’m sure their coach will be on them, so we got to be ready to come out with more energy and really get our energy and get the lead going earlier.”
The Elis were effective in shutting down Brown’s leading scorer, guard Desmond Cambridge, allowing him to put up a measly seven points on three for 18 shooting. Cambridge, whom guard Trey Phills ’19 defended for most of the game, suffered his worst offensive performance of the season last Saturday, though his 18.1 points per game still rank third in the conference. After the game, Jones called him “probably the best tough shot maker” he has seen in his life. In Friday’s match, the Bulldogs will prioritize minimizing Cambridge’s offensive impact once again.
In their loss, the Bears benefitted from a career afternoon from forward Tamenang Choh, who scored a game-high 18 points and collected a season-high of 16 rebounds. His performance propelled his rebounds per game average of 8.5 to second on the Ivy leaderboard — he trails only forward Jordan Bruner ’20, who averages 8.6 a game. Choh’s six offensive boards last weekend dwarfed that of others on the floor, yielding Brown a total of 12 second-chance points. Forward Paul Atkinson ’21 finished with three offensive rebounds, the second most in the game.
Although Yale’s 41.4 rebounds a game and +6.2 rebounding margin lead the Ivy League — and the team’s 31.5 defensive rebounds per game ranks second in all of NCAA Division I men’s basketball — Jones expressed frustration with Brown’s success on the offensive boards.
“We want to rebound a little bit better,” Jones said. “I thought they got too many offensive rebounds, too many second-chance points. Jordan Bruner does a great job of changing shots, and those misses — we need to make sure we scoop them up. We didn’t do that, they got three or four put-backs, and if we take those away, it’s a different game for us.”
Yale dropped the second leg of last year’s series with the Bears 81–80 in Providence. Playing at home should figure as a big advantage for the Bulldogs, who have outscored opponents by an average of nearly 18 points this season on their own hardwood. Though Brown was projected to take last weekend’s game, according to the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group, the home-court advantage increases Yale’s chance of victory to 71.1 percent.
Still, playing the same opponent two weeks in a row poses a challenge for any team, as both players and coaches are familiar with the personnel and plays of their counterparts.
“It’s all about the minor details,” Phills said. “Coaches are going to nitpick us here and there, we’re going to watch a lot of film, and they’re going to be even more motivated after taking the loss, so just being mentally prepared and knowing it’s not going to be easier the second time, it’s going to be harder.”
With a win Friday, Jones would be the third Ivy League coach with more than 300 victories, joining Penn’s Fran Dunphy who has 310 and Princeton legend Pete Carril who has 514.
The Elis will host the Bears this Friday at 7 p.m. in the John J. Lee Amphitheater, where they will also hold a postgame autograph session.
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