More than 2,000 fans flooded the John J. Lee Amphitheater Friday night to soak in an energized performance from Yale men’s basketball and a career night for James Jones, in the midst of his 20th season as the team’s head coach.
With the Bulldogs’ (12–3, 2–0 Ivy) 79–71 defeat of Brown (12–6, 0–2), Yale increased its win streak to eight, sweeping the Bears for the fifth time in six years and earning Jones his 300th career victory. Yale’s play reflected a faithful subscription to the trademark tenets that have come to define Jones’s coaching philosophy, one that emphasizes defense, rebounding and sharing the ball. Behind big performances from their trio of starting seniors, the Elis held Brown to 39.4 percent shooting and tallied 12 more rebounds, six more assists and five more blocks than the Bears.
“Since we were freshmen, Coach Jones, especially for me being [from] across the country, has just been a great figure,” guard Alex Copeland ’19 said. “Someone to go to for guidance, whether it’s on the court [or] off the court, to talk about life, my girlfriend, whatever it is. Being able to grind for him and help him accomplish something cool means a lot.”
Already the most successful men’s basketball coach in Yale history, Jones joins Princeton’s Pete Carril and Penn’s Fran Dunphy, the only other Ivy League men’s basketball coaches with 300 wins. With continued success, he could foreseeably surpass Dunphy, who won 310 games with the Quakers, later this season. But Carril’s 514 victories in nearly 30 seasons at the helm for the Tigers still loom far in the distance.
Despite the career milestone, Jones directed praise to his players. Sitting in between seniors Copeland and guard Trey Phills ’19 at Friday night’s postgame conference before returning to a celebratory water bath in the locker room, he recalled his first win — a 72–69 home victory over Vermont on Nov. 21, 1999 — and celebrated the “young men that play for me now,” who “are still great, quality people.” Under Jones’s leadership, the program has enjoyed at least a fourth-place finish in the Ancient Eight for 18 consecutive seasons.
On Friday night, the team’s veterans demonstrated why the Bulldogs are likely to extend that streak come mid-March. Copeland scored a team-high 19 points, forward and captain Blake Reynolds ’19 tallied 15 points and nine rebounds and Phills paired nine points with another strong defensive showing. The junior duo of guard Miye Oni ’20 and forward Jordan Bruner ’20, meanwhile, combined for 24 points, 22 rebounds, eight assists and five blocks.
“That’s why [the seniors] are on the floor now, and they weren’t on the floor as freshman,” Jones said. “They played behind Makai [Mason ’18], who was a first-team all-league player, and Nick Victor [’16], who was our best defender. Trey couldn’t defend like that when he was a freshman, but he learned from Nick, you know, Alex learned from Makai. Those kind of things [are] how you build a program, through guys that influence.”
Both teams treated fans at John J. Lee to an energized contest. Before students filled the stands to capacity, the officiating crew had administered a double technical, hitting both Bruner and Brown forward Tamenang Choh with technical fouls after a minor skirmish on Yale’s offensive possession. Exchanging some words as Yale jogged back to play defense in the second half, guard Desmond Cambridge, Brown’s leading scorer, and Oni incited a second double technical. The two smirked and briefly shook hands after the call, a dose of mutual respect for two fierce competitors.
Reynolds fired up the crowd with two three-pointers in the first half, and he and Oni led the Bulldogs with eight points apiece as the teams entered the break. Though they trailed 11–7 after Brown guard David Mitchell hit an open layup following a nifty find from Choh, the Elis regained the lead permanently with 11 unanswered points. As with last weekend’s game in Providence, Yale scored 37 in the first half. It led 37–30 at halftime behind 10 assists on 13 field goals.
The game underwent a brief delay in the first part of the second period as referees conferred and reviewed video to assess who would receive a foul called on Brown, which was ultimately given to Choh. As Bears head coach Mike Martin expressed his frustration with the decision, the Bulldogs jumped out to seven quick points, scoring three baskets in 68 seconds. With a signature post move, forward Paul Atkinson ’21 hit a layup under the hoop, Oni found guard Azar Swain ’21 for a two-pointer on the fast break and Copeland drilled his second three-pointer of the half.
Despite scoring 14 points for the Bears, Cambridge had a relatively quiet night. The Nashville, Tennessee native and last season’s Ivy Rookie of the Year shot an ice-cold five for 17 from the field and one for seven from beyond the three-point arc. His shooting woes and high usage often ended Brown’s offensive possessions; however, he successfully grounded the Brown defense, grabbing five rebounds, tallying two steals and blocking one shot.
“I hated it, I couldn’t sleep last night,” Phills said when asked about guarding Cambridge. “He hits some tough shots, so you just got to be mentally locked in, and I think Coach Jones did a great job of actually putting Miye [on him] because they knew Cambridge wasn’t getting a lot of outside shots. He put Miye on him in the second half, and that took away the post-up.”
Instead, for the second weekend in a row, Choh proved himself Brown’s primary playmaker. The 6-foot-5-inch sophomore set the pace for the Bears again, snagging rebounds, pushing the ball down the court and commanding the offensive glass with momentum-swinging putbacks. Choh contributed a total of 42 points and 31 rebounds in the two-game series.
However, Yale’s versatility and talent was on full display Friday night, proving to be overwhelming for the Bears. Three starters — Copeland, Reynolds and Oni — scored in double figures, while two other starters came just a point shy. Atkinson, who continues to be a spark for the Elis off the bench, scored eight of his own and added three boards, two blocks and a steal to the stat sheet.
“It’s nice to be able to trust your teammates, and we’re so deep,” Phills said. “It’s hard to know any night there’s not one go-to guy, so from a team perspective, it’s just really comforting just to be like, ‘Alright, if someone’s hitting shots, we got to make sure we just find him. Whoever’s hot, whoever’s hot.’”
The Elis resume conference play next weekend when they travel north to face Harvard and Dartmouth in the team’s first back-to-back of the season.
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