Yale men’s basketball captured a share of the Ivy League championship with a dominant 81–59 win against Princeton on Saturday night, securing the conference title for the third time in the past five seasons.
Exploding to a 25-point lead in the second half, the Bulldogs (20–7, 10–4 Ivy) concluded their regular season with expert ball movement, contributions across the lineup and a 20-point night for captain and forward Blake Reynolds ’19, who tied a career best in scoring on his nine of 16 shooting. Fellow senior and guard Alex Copeland ’19 chipped in 15, guard Azar Swain ’21 scored 14 on 75 percent shooting from deep, forward Jordan Bruner ’20 grabbed a game-high 10 boards and guard Miye Oni ’20 nearly notched a double-double, scoring 10 and collecting eight rebounds in Yale’s 22-point victory, its largest margin over the Tigers (16–11, 8–6) in school history.
“I thought the whole team did a great job at getting back to basics defensively,” head coach James Jones said. “We really guarded tonight where we had been lacking the last few games defensively and giving up easy baskets. Princeton got sparingly few easy baskets tonight against us and that collective energy with all the guys was tremendous. Alex [Copeland], Trey [Phills ’19] and Blake [Reynolds] were outstanding.”
In their final regular season game donning the Blue and White, Yale’s senior duo of Reynolds and Copeland stepped up in grand fashion, kindling Eli runs and a second half in which Yale outscored the Tigers by 15 at Jadwin Gymnasium. Phills, possibly the conference’s best perimeter defender, paced an Elis defense that limited Princeton to 38 percent shooting from the field.
The Bulldogs received championship shirts, an Ivy League banner and a tall, silver Ancient Eight trophy following the win.
“From top to bottom, we worked really, really hard for this,” Copeland said. “Obviously we’ve had a great season with ups and downs, but to drop two games in a row definitely hurt for us, and we kind of had to look in the mirror and say how are we going to bounce back. To have a game where we have so much energy and played so hard — we’re just back to ourselves and having fun — and to both do that and have a result in a championship feels amazing.”
A short drive away at the Palestra, Penn narrowly defeated Brown in a win-or-go home contest that saw guard Devon Goodman drop 20 points. With the win, the Quakers secured a spot in their third-straight Ivy League tournament but will travel away from Philadelphia for the conference playoff for the first time next weekend. Princeton will remain the No. 3 seed while Penn clinched the No. 4 spot.
Harvard’s 83–81 overtime win over Columbia in Manhattan, a game that concluded about an hour after the Elis defeated Princeton, conferred the Crimson the No. 1 seed in Ivy Madness and means Yale will share its regular season title with its archrival. Although both schools have identical conference records, Harvard’s 2–0 mark against Yale this season gave head coach Tommy Amaker’s team the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Tigers honored their seniors — guards Elias Berbari and Myles Stephens as well as forward Noah Bramlage — before the game as each player walked to center court to receive a framed jersey from head coach Mitch Henderson. Following tip, both teams started slowly on offense in the game’s first few minutes. Before Copeland hit a turnaround mid-range shot to give Yale a 6–4 lead six and a half minutes into the match, the Elis had missed eight of their ten first field goal attempts.
But the Bulldogs soon settled in, maintaining a slim advantage for most of the remaining half and benefitting from offensive contributions across the lineup. Jones rotated nine Elis in the frame, calling on forward Austin Williams ’20 with more than 11 minutes to play in the first half and utilizing guard Eric Monroe ’20 in similar fashion. Monroe showed maturity facilitating the Bulldog offense, at one point finding Swain with a nifty pass that threaded the gap between a pair of colliding Princeton defenders, and Williams provided four first-half points off the bench . Both played an important role in building early momentum for Yale.
“I told [Williams] he played great minutes,” Jones said. “It’s hard to do what he did in such a limited role and keep yourself ready. But he comes to practice every day, and it just shows how much of a program we have when guys can even stay focused when they’re not getting opportunity.”
Although the Bulldogs shot 43.3 percent in the first half and hit just two of nine triples, the Elis appeared back to their usual form following losses in three of their last four Ivy games. A loss to Penn last night marked their first pair of consecutive losses since falling to Memphis and Vermont in November. Yale led 34–27 at halftime.
Yale expanded its advantage early in the second period, playing with its usual momentum and shooting the ball with great success. 68 seconds in, forward Jordan Bruner ’20 grabbed an offensive board and found a cutting Oni for a strong layup above the rim, a combination that mirrored the play Yale has flaunted for much of the season. The 6-foot-9-inch forward later recorded a steal and raced up the floor to finish a fast-break dunk that sent the Yale bench to its feet and elicited one of Bruner’s iconic howls. On the very next possession, captain and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 drilled a catch-and-shoot three to extend Yale’s lead to 46–33, then its largest of the game.
“We’ve struggled the past few games, we got kind of comfortable being in first place, and we wanted to come out tonight and really make a statement that we still believe we’re the best team in this league,” Reynolds said. “Last night I feel like we kind of got away from [sharing the ball] and made some one-on-one plays when we shouldn’t have and weren’t really trusting our offense, but tonight we kept running our offense throughout entire possessions and we got good shots.”
The Bulldogs’ ball movement was on full display in the second half. Yale assisted on seven of its first nine buckets in the frame, threading passes through the paint and along the perimeter. The Elis finished with 16 assists, including four from forward Paul Atkinson ’21.
Essentially sealing its championship midway through the half, the Bulldogs scored eight points in 37 seconds midway through the period. Guard Azar Swain ’21 nailed a shot from deep — one of his three triples on the night — while Copeland successfully pulled up from mid-range on the next possession. This led to a steal from guard Trey Phills ’19 which produced a Copeland and-one dunk on the ensuing fast break, arguably the game’s most exciting sequence.
“It’s the first one off our chest,” Jones said. “We’ve led the league, it’s almost hard to finish where we beat Princeton and took a share of the lead on that second weekend of back-to-back[s]. We’ve held on to it through some ups and downs, and it feels great to win a championship. Now we just got to keep the momentum going and hopefully play well next weekend.”
With the win, Yale scored its seventh Ivy League championship in school history and its fourth in the last two decades with Jones at the helm, the winningest men’s basketball coach in school history.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org