With a 23-point win over Cornell, Yale men’s basketball secured its spot in the Ivy League Tournament on Friday night. But an unexpected loss to Columbia on Saturday brought the celebration to a sudden halt.
Despite entering the game as a 15-point favorite, Yale (19–6, 9–3 Ivy) allowed the Lions (9–17, 4–8) a 12–0 advantage less than three minutes into the game and struggled defensively for the rest of the contest. Continued attempts at a second-half comeback — and intentional fouls in the game’s final minutes — could not salvage the Elis a win on Senior Night. Yale ultimately fell to the seventh-place Lions 83–75 after defeating the Big Red (13–15, 5–7) on Friday.
“I don’t think it was necessarily what Columbia did, I think it was what we didn’t do,” captain and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 said after Saturday’s loss. “We didn’t play well on the defensive end. We came out yesterday against Cornell and we were locked in. Everybody was in the right spots, everybody knew their assignments, and then that wasn’t the case today. We didn’t play great help defense, and it allowed them to see a few go through the hoop, and they got hot and kept that rolling for a while.”
Coupled with Yale’s loss, Harvard’s 66–58 win over Princeton on Saturday night — which Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving took in courtside — knotted the programs’ conference records at an identical 9–3. Since the Crimson swept the Bulldogs in this year’s season series, Yale fell into second place in terms of Ivy Madness seeding after Saturday. Harvard, who also clinched its Ivy tournament berth on Friday, now sits atop the Ancient Eight standings, while Princeton, the third team to punch its ticket on Friday night, remains in third.
The Elis came out hot on Friday night, jumping to an early 12-point lead after hitting their first five shots and forcing Cornell head coach Brian Earl to call a timeout and talk things over with his squad. The stoppage did not seem to aid the Big Red, as the Bulldogs continued to attack the inside with Reynolds and forward Jordan Bruner ’20 bullying defenders in the paint. To the joy of a comparatively sparse Yale crowd, guard Miye Oni ’20 then caught fire, hitting seven of his first nine shot attempts from behind the arc. The NBA prospect finished with 25 points at the half, just ten shy of his career-high.
“We usually try to start off the game with the ball going inside,” Oni said after Friday’s win. “That usually sucks defenders in, and a lot of times I’m open for kickouts. It’s just a result of us playing as a team and moving the ball around. If my team finds me for an open three, I’ll just be ready to shoot it.”
Yale started much slower out of the gates in the second half. Supplemented by poor Eli shooting, the Big Red orchestrated a 20–4 run to start the half, sparked by a pair of threes from forward Jimmy Boeheim. With Oni cooling off significantly, it was up to the rest of the team to seize control. The Bulldogs did just that, improving their shooting with ball movement and maintaining control for the rest of the half, ultimately coasting to an 88–65 win.
Guard Trey Phills ’19, who has consistently locked down the Ancient Eight’s best offensive talents, held Matt Morgan, the league’s most prolific scorer and NBA Draft prospect, to just 11 points on 37.5 percent shooting. Despite being held to his lowest point total in two seasons, Morgan extended his double-digit scoring streak to 78 games, which remains an Ivy League record.
Yale recognized its class of 2019 on Saturday before tip-off, presenting framed jerseys to the team’s four seniors: guard Alex Copeland ’19, Phills, Reynolds and forward Thomas Ryan ’19. Along with senior manager Brooks Chupp ’19, the quadruple individually escorted their family members to centercourt and basked in a standing ovation from the appreciative John J. Lee Amphitheater crowd.
Once the ball had finally tipped, the Lions leapt out to an immediate advantage. When senior guard Quinton Adlesh hit a three to increase their lead to 12–0, Oni stood up, removed his warm-up and strolled to the scorer’s table to check in for Ryan, who made his first start this season and received a standing ovation from the bench despite the Elis falling behind early.
Yale reduced the lead with a 17–4 run midway through the first half. The Bulldogs would never lead, but riding the momentum of a reignited crowd, the Elis locked down the paint and contested perimeter jumpshots to cut the Light Blue lead down to 70–65 with a little under three minutes to go. Copeland and Oni hit deep contested threes down the final stretch, but Columbia converted its free throws from the charity stripe and managed to break down Yale’s full-court press.
But the Lions ultimately maintained their slim advantage, holding on to a lead that shrunk to four with 15 seconds to play. The Light Blue continuously knocked down tough shots, including a fading, midrange jumper from Adlesh, which he made over Phills’ extended arm. The senior guard finished with a team-high 19 points.
As the final buzzer sounded, Yale walked off the floor with just their second home loss of the season.
“There’s lots of basketball to be played, but [the seniors are] a great group of young men and they’ve had a tremendous career and have meant a lot to our basketball program,” Jones said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how they finish this chapter.”
The Bulldogs had swept the Columbia-Cornell home weekend in the last three seasons and now turn their attention to playing at Penn and Princeton in their regular season finale.
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