Yale men’s basketball first faced Harvard on the hardwood in 1901, a 41–16 Bulldog win that preceded the inaugural contest between Duke and North Carolina by 19 years. This weekend in New Haven, the two rivals meet for the 200th time.
In sole possession of first place in the Ivy League, the Bulldogs (17–4, 7–1 Ivy) host second-place Harvard (13–8, 6–2) at John J. Lee Amphitheater on Saturday night. Yale will look to avenge its only conference loss this season, a 64–49 defeat to the Crimson on Feb. 1 and end its five-game losing streak against Harvard in the regular season. Before taking on their nemesis in front of what is likely be a sold-out crowd, the Bulldogs must deal with Dartmouth (11–13, 2–6) on Friday.
“We want to finish off conference play making a statement,” guard Eric Monroe ’20 said. “Winning the league is definitely a goal of ours, but we want to make sure we finish off league play strong so that we put ourselves in a good situation heading into the Ivy League tournament.”
Yale stands just six regular season games away from the chance to defend its home court when Ivy Madness hits New Haven in mid-March. Earlier this week, the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group calculated the Elis’ playoff odds to exceed 99.95 percent. A sweep this weekend — and one loss by both Penn and Brown — would give the Bulldogs a third-consecutive berth in the conference tournament.
Yale Athletics is expecting the season’s largest crowd for Saturday’s rivalry matchup, which also features free rally towels for fans and a white-out theme. Though student tickets were still available as of Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m., a representative from the ticket office said that only “four to five” single seats in various sections of JLA were still up for grabs. The Harvard Crimson’s basketball reporter Henry Zhu tweeted out earlier this week that Harvard students had already filled a fan bus to Yale for the game, with Harvard Athletics preparing to arrange a second.
But despite the hype, Yale understands the danger that could accompany overlooking Friday’s game against the Big Green, especially in this season’s deep, competitive Ivy League. The Ancient Eight leads all NCAA Division I conferences in close-game percentage — nearly half of Ivy League games this season have been decided by less than four points or in overtime.
“Every game matters, especially when you’re only one game in the lead, so we just try to take it one game at a time, so there’s no looking ahead for me,” forward Jordan Bruner ’20 said. “I got a game on Friday, and then I got a game on Saturday, and I just take it from there.”
In early February, the Elis bounced back from their poor shooting performance at Lavietes Pavilion against a Dartmouth team that had proven its three-point shooting talent. The Elis downed the Big Green 89–68, igniting the Elis’ current five-game winning streak. In their Feb. 2 meeting, Yale held Dartmouth, which currently ranks 14th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage, to just 23.8 percent shooting from downtown. The Big Green boasts a couple of the Ivy League’s best perimeter shooters in guard Brendan Barry and James Foye, whose three-point percentages rank 17th and 18th in the nation, respectively.
Led by guard Miye Oni’s ’20 31 points, the second-highest single-game total of his career, the Bulldogs hit close to 50 percent of their threes in Hanover. Forwards Bruner and Blake Reynolds ’19 each added 17 points, as the senior captain shot a perfect 100 percent from the field and knocked down a trio of three-pointers.
Yale will hope to continue its offensive tear as the Ancient Eight’s most prolific scoring squad while also prioritizing close-out defense on Dartmouth shooters. The Elis will also need to key in on star forward Chris Knight, who paces the Big Green with 16.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Although Dartmouth sits in seventh place, the Big Green’s last three losses have come by a combined total of seven points.
Harvard, meanwhile, enters the weekend after becoming only the ninth team in league history to sweep Princeton and Penn in a back-to-back on the road. Following its win over Yale, the Crimson cruised to a win at Brown on Feb. 2 before struggling against last-place Columbia and Cornell. The Lions ultimately took Harvard to triple-overtime in a two-point Light Blue loss, while Cornell defeated an exhausted Crimson squad by six the following night in Boston.
Injured forward Seth Towns, last season’s Ivy League Player of the Year, has not yet suited up for the Crimson this season and remains out indefinitely. Junior guard Bryce Aiken, on the other end, returned to the team in mid-January after missing nearly all of nonconference play with a knee injury. Though he logged only 16 minutes against Yale on Feb. 1, the 6-foot guard is hitting clutch threes, averaging 31.5 points in the Crimson’s last four contests. The Ivy League named him the Player of the Week after he scored a combined 58 points on 56 percent shooting against Penn and Princeton last weekend.
Oni along with the rest of Yale’s veteran corp are on offensive streaks of their own. In the Elis’ five-game winning streak, Oni is averaging 25.4 points and 8.4 rebounds a night, while guard Alex Copeland ’19 has scored 67 over that stretch. The senior point guard is merely 18 points shy of Yale’s 1,000-point club.
“Our team hates losing,” guard Azar Swain ’21 said. “We still have that bad taste in our mouths from the first meeting [with Harvard], so we’ll be ready this time.”
Excluding two Eli wins by forfeit in 1904, Yale leads the all-time series against Harvard, 118–81. Both contests this weekend tip off at 7 p.m., and ESPNews will televise Friday’s game against the Big Green.
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