Marisa Peryer

Yale men’s basketball returned to the John J. Lee Amphitheater Friday night, playing at home for the first time this season.

Other students joined the Bulldogs in restoring the game night spectacle. The Baker’s Dozen, a Yale a cappella group, performed the national anthem; cheerleaders patrolled the baseline; several members of the baseball team scanned game tickets; and students from around the College formed an active fan section that had grown to fill almost two-thirds of the amphitheater’s wooden bleachers by halftime.

The opponent Yale (2–0, 0–0 Ivy) faced — Division III school Oberlin (0–0, 0–0 NCAC), which played the game as an exhibition — may not have been as formidable as some of the Ivy League foes the Elis will welcome on weekends later this winter, but Friday night hoops were back nevertheless. 

Also returning to Lee Amphitheater was Yeomen head coach and former Yale guard Isaiah Cavaco ’01, entering his 14th season at Oberlin. His side’s 60 percent shooting from deep in the first half helped keep the game relevant before a 29–2 Eli run to start the second half ignited a period of constant scoring and sealed a big Yale win. All 14 active Elis saw the floor in both halves, and 13 logged points in the final box, led by 12 from forward Paul Atkinson ’21 and 11 from guard Azar Swain ’21.

Yale head coach James Jones involved his entire roster throughout the game.

“The nervousness some of the guys felt, especially in the first half — I wanted to give them some rope to see what it’s like to be involved in that,” Jones said. “It wasn’t always pretty out there, but it was giving guys the opportunity. The thing I liked the most about the game was the start of the second half by the first team. After sitting down for at least half of [the first half], they came out and, with a roar, really took control of the game. I just liked the way they played — we had six assists in the first half, and we ended up with 22 for the game… it’s fun to watch when we do that.”

Cavaco played under Jones for two seasons, and the Yale coach said he was a high-IQ player who would improve those on the floor around him, comparing him to current captain and starting guard Eric Monroe ’20. Knee issues limited Cavaco to only five games as a junior, but he played 27 games under Jones in his final season, starting 15 of them. Current Yale assistant coach Justin Simon ’04 was a first-year on that team as well, appearing in 12 games.

Cavaco works the Yale basketball camp every summer, driving in twice a year to help out, and Jones still knows him well — they embraced post-game and bumped fists when walking out to start the second half. The duo has coached together — Cavaco served a stint as a Yale assistant in the early 2000s — and also against one another. Oberlin last visited New Haven in January 2013 for a non-conference game, a match that Yale won in an even grander fashion, 104–39.

“He’s been a really good friend of our program, and he’s a big supporter of us, so it’s always good to see him,” Jones said. “It’s nice to see his team and what he’s been able to do with his program … The 13 wins that [Oberlin] had last year and the nine wins they had in the conference were the most they’ve had in 35 years, so he’s done a great job at building that program, and it’s a very difficult spot to win in. He’s done a Yeoman’s job at it.”

Yale jumped to an early 24–8 lead ten minutes into the Friday night game, featuring offensive contributions from starters Atkinson, Swain and forward Jordan Bruner ’20, as well as from guard Eze Dike ’22 and forwards Jameel Alausa ’21 and Wyatt Yess ’21 off the bench.

Dike drained a three-pointer with a little more than 12 minutes to play. On the Elis’ next offensive possession, he executed a quick dribble move on the perimeter and darted inside, finishing a reverse layup with ease. The bucket increased Yale’s lead to 16, and Oberlin called a 30-second timeout immediately afterwards. Dike led all Bulldogs at the half with eight points on three of four shooting from the field. He finished with nine points, a career-high, and said he worked on his overall game this past summer during the post-game press conference.

“[I worked on] coming off ball screens, passing, everything honestly,” Dike said. “I feel like it was more of an understanding thing: talking to coaches, trying to find out what I had to do on offense to make my teammates better [and] make myself better.”

Oberlin junior guard Wolf Moser contributed most of the Yeomen offense early on. The 6-foot-1 guard hit two threes in the game’s first ten minutes and added a third later in the half, finishing the frame with nine points. Toward the end of the first half, Oberlin staged a 14–4 run to narrow the deficit to single digits. The Yeomen trailed 38–26 at the break.

Yale’s starters opened the second frame quickly. Starting guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 swished a three-pointer in the corner, Atkinson hit a shot down low, Swain drove for two on the fast break and Atkinson found the bottom of the net for two more. The Bulldogs scored nine points on four possessions in just 111 seconds, expanding their lead to 47–26.

The early run prompted a 30-second timeout from Oberlin with 18:09 to play, but the onslaught continued with Yale’s starters in the game. Scoring from Gabiddon, Swain and Atkinson resumed, and Yale led 60–28 less than five minutes later after Bruner pulled up for a three-pointer at the top of the key. When the Elis called a timeout with 11:47 to play, its second-half run stood at 23–2. It would grow to 29–2 after consecutive three-pointers from guard Matthue Cotton ’22.

The student section, which Dike said was “definitely” larger than he expected, remained energized even as the game lost its competitiveness, bumping along to speaker music during breaks in the action and shooting to its feet on long threes and dunks, including a ferocious second-half putback from first-year forward EJ Jarvis ’23.

“[Jarvis] brings energy, and we just want to support him while he’s out there,” Bruner said. “Whoever you put out there with me, I’m trying to win. These are my guys. We have two new guys and a lot of guys didn’t get much time to step out on the court last year, and now they do. Nothing changes really. We still have Yale Bulldogs across our chest, and we still step out every day to try to win.”

Yale departs for northern California on Saturday afternoon. The Elis face San Francisco Monday at 9 p.m., while Oberlin plays its second game of the season — and its first official contest — Saturday night. The Yeomen, who counted Friday’s game against the Elis as an exhibition contest, will take on fellow DIII opponent New York University in Manhattan.

Yale outscored Oberlin 56–11 in the second half.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu