On Friday night in Boston, Harvard limited the Ivy League’s highest-scoring offense to a season-low 49 points. One hundred twenty-five miles north and 24 hours later, that same Yale men’s basketball team managed to score 48 in one half alone.
The Bulldogs (13–4, 3–1 Ivy) seemed like two completely different teams in their first back-to-back of the Ivy season, splitting the opening weekend before heading into the brunt of Ivy play. Squaring off with two programs that split their home-and-home series last month, the Elis fell to Harvard (10–7, 3–1) 65–49 in front of a packed Cambridge crowd and several NBA scouts before demolishing Dartmouth (10–10, 1–3) 89–68 in Hanover on Saturday night. Scoring nearly three times as many three-pointers as they hit on Friday, the Bulldogs benefitted from an explosive second half from guard Miye Oni ’20, who shot eight for 10 in the frame and scored a career-high 31 points after going only three for 15 from the field against Harvard.
“It was great for us to bounce back,” head coach James Jones said after Saturday’s win. “We got that bad taste out of our mouth going forward so we can reshape ourselves and get ready for next weekend … [Oni] just lit it up and started doing the things we know he’s capable of and that we hope we see more of going forward.”
Oni’s 31 points against Dartmouth marked the first time a Yale player scored more than 30 since Anthony Dallier ’17 dropped the same amount against Brown in 2017. His career night also included nine rebounds, four assists and two steals — all team-highs and instrumental contributions that helped the Elis rebound from a disappointing Friday night.
With its last loss coming to Duke Dec. 8, Yale entered rival territory with high expectations, only to be plagued by 40 minutes of dismal shooting and stagnant offense. Harvard led from the outset, hitting its first shot of the game — a three-pointer from forward Justin Bassey — and limited the Bulldogs to a measly 30.5 percent from the field.
Yale failed to convert its attempts from long range, shooting four for 23 from behind the arc. Oni, forward Jordan Bruner ’20 and guard Azar Swain ’21 combined to shoot 1–16, while forward Paul Atkinson ’21 also missed his first career triple. As a result, the Elis looked inside for scoring opportunities, but were met by the overwhelming paint presence of 2018 All-Ivy First Team forward Chris Lewis. Although the 6-foot-9-inch Georgia native only finished with eight points, he recorded three blocks, a steal and altered countless shot attempts under the basket. A block on Oni in the second half ignited a sold-out Lavietes Pavilion crowd and a lively student section which had filled to capacity by the halftime break when Harvard led 35–20.
The Bulldogs arrived in Boston much later than planned on Friday. An accident on I-95 in Connecticut caused an unexpected delay, disrupting their pregame routine.
“I don’t want to make excuses,” Jones said. “All I know is it didn’t help. … We were a half-hour to 45 minutes late to the pregame meal, and so we sat, we ate, we choked down our food in 20 minutes, and we got on the bus and didn’t get to Harvard until an hour and two minutes before the game.”
Guard Alex Copeland ’19, who scored a team-high 14 points in the loss, helped Yale show signs of life in the second half, leading the Bulldogs on a 7–0 run early in the stanza. An impressive layup from Oni cut the Harvard lead to just 10, but the home team constantly sparked runs to maintain a large advantage that ultimately cemented itself at 65–49. Forward Robert Baker finished the game with 13 points after hitting four of his five attempts from deep.
Having driven to New Hampshire shortly after the loss, the Elis entered Leede Arena two-and-a-half hours early on Saturday to practice shooting and enjoy an unhurried warmup, which seemed to foreshadow an improved shooting performance.
“We just had fun,” Bruner said. “I know I hadn’t been having fun, I’ve been really hard on myself. Guys had just been playing tight for the last four or five games, so I told guys we haven’t had fun in a while together, so we just came out and had fun tonight.”
The Bulldogs began — and finished — the game with hot hands, shooting a tad under 54 percent on the night. Forward Chris Knight canned a close-range jumper to break open scoring, and guard Aaryn Rai finished a layup to secure a 4–2 lead. However, Yale answered with a huge slam from Bruner, and the Elis never looked back, jumping out to a 16–4 lead in less than six minutes.
Bruner and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 each added 17 in the Bulldogs’ 21-point win, while Dartmouth, who entered the game ranked seventh in the nation with a 40.5 three-point field goal percentage, shot an uncharacteristic five for 21 from beyond the arc. Guard Trey Phills ’19 even managed to block one of the attempts from downtown, catalyzing the defensive effort and smothering guard Brendan Barry, who led the nation in three-point field goal percentage earlier last week. The Big Green junior finished with nine points, while Knight would pace the team with 20.
“We just went in with more readiness and more confidence,” Oni said. “We knew we had to win this game. And yesterday we knew we had to win too, but we still came out flat, and we have the past three times we played [Harvard]. We’re not going to do that again next time. But this game we came out ready to go, and we knew we had to put it on early, and we did.”
Harvard has defeated Yale in their last five regular season meetings.
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