Yale’s blowout loss against Harvard last weekend — its first since a loss at Duke in early December — cast a flicker of doubt on its Ivy League supremacy. But after consecutive home wins over Princeton and Penn, the Elis sit alone at the top of the Ivy men’s basketball throne, restoring their status as one of the nation’s top mid-major teams with hot shooting, a high-energy defense and star guard Miye Oni ’20.
Oni scored 56 points across both games this weekend, while guard Alex Copeland ’19 added 15 each night as the Bulldogs (15–4, 5–1 Ivy) leapt a step closer to securing a spot in the Ivy League Tournament. On Friday, Yale defeated the Tigers (12–7, 4–2) 74–60. Though Princeton reinstated senior guard Devin Cannady, Oni still managed a new career-high of 35 points and a crucial 10–0 second-half run. A day later, the Elis handled Penn (14–8, 2–4) in similar fashion, riding an explosive 16–6 run in the game’s final four and a half minutes to secure a 78–65 win over the defending Ancient Eight champions.
“I don’t know that many people have ever had a guy like [Oni] in our league,” head coach James Jones said after defeating Princeton. “Miye is a very interesting and dynamic player, and I think he’s really starting to play with the confidence that he should be playing with. I think that he puts a little bit too much pressure on himself from time to time and that hurts him and I think that now he’s playing with a calm mindset, which has really helped him.”
Jones said Oni’s performance, which also featured 12 rebounds, three blocks and 13 of 18 shooting from the field, was “probably” the best he has seen at John J. Lee Amphitheater in his twenty seasons as head coach.
After improving on the career mark he set last Saturday at Dartmouth, Oni has now scored 88 points in his last three games. The NBA Draft prospect averages 18.1 points per game, the third most among Ivy League players. His 3.8 assists per game lead the Ancient Eight, and he ranks at least seventh in rebounds per game, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, three-point field goals per game and blocks per game.
Heading into the weekend, the Bulldogs prepared to face a Tigers program missing the sharpshooting Cannady, whom Princeton suspended indefinitely from the team last month following an arrest after an altercation with campus police. But a couple hours before tip on Friday, Princeton University spokesperson Ben Chang issued a statement announcing that “the Department of Athletics has determined that Cannady has served the appropriate suspension from competition and is reinstated.” Tigers head coach Mitch Henderson had not given any hints about Cannady’s indefinite status, and Jones said he first started getting texts that the senior would be playing Friday night around 5 p.m.
However, Cannady — who leads the Tiger offense with 19 points per game — seemed rusty in the first half, his first on-court action since Princeton’s Jan. 12 game against Penn. His 0–6 shooting in the first half, combined with poor shooting from the rest of the squad, contributed to a 36–22 Yale lead at the end of the first 20 minutes of play. The Bulldogs limited Princeton to 33.8 percent shooting from the field and just 18.2 percent from behind the arc on the night, and Jones pointed out that Yale may have actually benefited from Cannady’s abrupt return.
“We may have actually caught a little bit of a break there because now they’re trying to integrate Cannady back into the offense after a weekend of being successful on the road with some other guys doing other things, and they just never got to those other things,” Jones said. “We were prepared for them, but it took away maybe a little bit of rhythm [from] their offense.”
Cannady briefly found his rhythm in the second half, intercepting a pass and smashing home a powerful one-handed jam on the other end, but when he stole another pass, Oni met him at the rim and rejected his second dunk attempt. Freshman guard Jaelin Llewellyn and center Richmond Aririguzoh guided a Tiger comeback — the duo combined for 32 points, and Princeton tied the game at 42 with 11:32 to play. But Yale rebounded, securing the lead for good on a 10–0 run that included two clutch three-pointers from guard Azar Swain ’21. Oni, who was guarded by 2017 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Myles Stephens for most of the night, also assisted on the first.
“I always tell him, ‘Azar, look for your opportunities,’ because when he hits, we just always get on a run like that,” Oni said. “He can hit contested ones, a dude can close out to him, he can wait and then still hit it, so that just makes all the difference. You can’t really guard that.”
Riding momentum from their big win over the Tigers, the Bulldogs clashed with the 2018 Ivy Madness champions on Saturday. Once again, the Bulldog defense sentenced an opponent to poor shooting — Penn shot 27.5 percent and only 4 of 20 from downtown in the first half. 12 of its 29 first-half points followed offensive rebounds, of which the Quakers accumulated 10 in the half.
The Bulldogs led 34–29 at the break as Yale thrived in transition throughout the contest, ultimately outscoring Penn on the fast break 33–4. Penn, led by first-team All-Ivy forward AJ Brodeur — who flirted with a triple-double and finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists — traded buckets with Yale for much of the second half. The Quakers trailed 62–59 with a little more than six minutes to go after guard Antonio Woods hit an open three.
In front of their largest home crowd since last season’s Harvard game, the Elis maintained composure and ignited a 16–6 run 90 seconds later. Trey Phills ’19 finished an and-one layup; Oni drove the lane and smashed home a huge slam on Penn forward Michael Wang; and moments later, forward Paul Atkinson ’21 backed down Wang in the post, turned and sent home a powerful two-handed flush. A three from forward Blake Reynolds ’19 on Yale’s next possession increased the lead to fourteen and cemented a 78–65 Bulldog win.
“That was a lot of fun to be a part of,” Copeland said. “I think that everyone who comes to our games knows how much energy we play with — how much fire we play with, maybe even a little too much at times. That was a game that really meant a lot to us.”
On Friday, Oni became the first Bulldog to score 35 points in a game since Greg Mangano ’12 tallied that many in a 2012 game against Division III opponent St. Joseph’s, NY.
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