The Yale men’s basketball team had not lost a game at John J. Lee Amphitheater in 394 days. But its sustained success at home came to a sudden halt, when guard Bryce Aiken showed up in New Haven Saturday night.
Hitting his third clutch shot in six contests for Harvard (14–9, 7–3 Ivy), the junior dropped 28 points against Yale (18–5, 8–2), including a deep, fade-away, two-point jumper that secured an 88–86 Crimson victory as the buzzer sounded. Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker opted not to start many of his veteran juniors, but it only took big play from Aiken and first-year forward Kale Catchings to dramatically snap the Bulldogs’ six-game winning streak and spoil a milestone weekend for guard Alex Copeland ’19. The Yale senior, who scored his 1,000th career point in a dominant 77–59 win over Dartmouth (11–15, 2–8) Friday night, contributed a combined 44 points, nine assists and seven steals across both games.
“Alex Copeland, he made a very tough shot to tie it up, and as soon as he made it, I saw there was 7.8 seconds on the clock, so that was more than enough time for us to get a shot up,” Aiken said. “My teammates trust me, my coach trusts me, the whole program does, and like I said, there was enough time to get up another shot, and that’s what my team trusts me to do… luckily it went in.”
Coming into Friday’s game against the Big Green, Copeland told the News that he was conscious of the 18 points he needed to become the 29th member of Yale’s exclusive 1,000-point club. With his family in attendance and Dartmouth prioritizing defense on guard Miye Oni ‘20 after his 31-point performance in Hanover earlier in the season, the stage was set for the six-foot-three guard from Los Angeles to thrive.
Leading the Bulldogs in their demolition of Dartmouth, Copeland finished with an impressive 21 points after missing just a single shot. His 1,000th point came roughly six and a half minutes into the second half, as he launched into his characteristic driving spin-move, absorbed contact, flipped up a shot over Dartmouth guard Taurus Samuels and earned a chance for a three-point play at the free throw line.
“It feels really good,” Copeland said after Friday night’s game. “Obviously, it’s just a testament to my teammates and coaching staff. My coaches have had so much trust in me and faith in me, and that gives me a lot of confidence. My teammates, for the past three years, have done an amazing job finding me but also adding to that confidence. It means the world to me.”
The senior’s impressive accomplishment was accompanied by an outstanding Bulldog defensive showing against the Big Green. The Elis held Dartmouth, who came into the contest ranked 14th in the nation in three-point field-goal percentage, to just 22.2 percent from behind the arc and limited star forward Chris Knight to a measly 2–12 shooting night.
The marquis matchup of the weekend, however, was Saturday’s sold-out rivalry bout. An energetic crowd donning white and whirling rally towels saw the Bulldogs jump to a 24–10 advantage after just six minutes and six seconds of play. Oni, who sunk his fifteenth point and fifth three on six attempts with about 10:30 to play in the half, helped the Elis keep a 31–19 advantage that Harvard would soon threaten.
Perfect first-half shooting from forward Danilo Djuricic propelled Harvard on a 21–7 run that gave the Crimson a three-point lead with a couple minutes remaining in the half and erased the early lead that Yale’s inside defense and hot shooting had originally spawned.
Oni, who paced the Bulldogs throughout the half, played every minute in the frame and had scored 17 by the break but would only finish with 21. Foul trouble limited his playing time in the second half, forcing him to sit for 12 of the final 20 minutes. An offensive foul called on the Yale star especially angered Jones and the Yale bench, who jumped to their feet in frustration.
With Oni out, Copeland took center stage for the Elis in a back-and-forth battle between both teams and two of the league’s quickest guards, the Yale senior and Aiken. The second half alone featured eight ties and 13 lead changes, and Copeland scored 15 in the period to lead Yale along with his classmate, guard Trey Phills ’19, who added 10 in the second.
Harvard attempted 23 free throws in the second compared to Yale’s seven and scored 19 of its 45 second-half points from the line. Yet despite the disparity, the Elis maintained a seven-point advantage with about five minutes to go. After two Aiken free throws with 1:36 to play, the Bulldogs still led by four, 83–79, with possession of the ball.
But Catchings caught fire as well, hitting a corner three after sending home a one-handed dunk, giving Harvard a one-point lead with 27 seconds left in the game. On the next play, Oni registered a loose-ball foul, collecting his fifth of the night after Catchings blocked his layup.
The foul sent forward Danilo Djuricic to the line with fifteen seconds left, where he drained two free throws to increase the Crimson lead to three. Copeland’s game-saving triple followed on the next play, and Aiken’s buzzer-beater cemented the final at 88–86.
“We’re more than a one-man team, obviously,” head coach James Jones said. “Trey and Al made big shot after big shot to help stretch the lead, and they did. We had all the chances in the word to finish it off, and we just didn’t.”
With four regular season games left on its schedule, Yale remains atop the Ivy League standings with a one-game lead.
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