MuscoSportsPhotos.com

Gallagher-Iba Arena, the 13,611-seat home of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, gets rowdy.

ESPN the Magazine, Bleacher Report and NCAA.com have all recognized the Division I men’s basketball stadium as one of the loudest in the nation, and fans of the Pokes take pride in their gym’s status as the “Madison Square Garden of the Plains.”

When Yale (2–1, 0–0 Ivy) visits the Sooner State on Sunday for a date with Big 12 opponent Oklahoma State (3–0, 0–0 Big 12), one Eli might boast a fan section that rivals the energy of those Oklahomans clad in orange and black.

Forward Jordan Bruner ’20, born in Oklahoma City, estimates that 30 of his family and friends will attend Sunday afternoon’s game in Stillwater. The competition will mark the first of two homecomings for the senior this winter. Yale plays at Clemson, where Bruner moved at the age of 11, three days before Christmas. While his mother and younger brother still live in South Carolina, family and friends from Bruner’s birthplace will back a Bulldog team coming off an overtime loss at San Francisco Monday night, the second overtime contest Yale has played in three games this season. The Bulldogs meet an OSU squad that returns all five starters from 2018–19 and features a pair of talented three-point shooters on the perimeter and shot blockers under the basket. Oklahoma State ranked fifth in the country as of Thursday afternoon with 22 blocked shots through its first three games.

No matter who the Elis confront — and no matter the arena atmosphere they encounter — Bruner won’t be bothered.

“I kind of like hostile environments,” Bruner said. “I guess I’m built different in that way… I’ve always liked people counting me out or going against me or not wanting me to succeed.”

Teammates helped pool their player tickets for many of Bruner’s family members, the 6-foot-9-inch forward said, and family and friends without access to free player tickets simply purchased seats for the game.

Bruner is also familiar with one of his Cowboy counterparts, senior starting guard Lindy Waters III. Waters, who turned down an offer from Yale head coach James Jones in committing to the Pokes, played with Bruner on a basketball team coached by Waters’ father when the two were in elementary school. Although they no longer keep in touch, Waters and Bruner ran into each other on Oklahoma State’s Stillwater campus a couple summers ago, said Bruner, when Bruner’s younger brother — Tommy Bruner, now a freshman guard at South Carolina Upstate — was making an unofficial visit to OSU.

Waters is of Kiowa and Cherokee descent. He and the Cowboys will wear turquoise jerseys in Sunday’s N7 game, an initiative between the school and Nike to honor Native American and Aboriginal heritage. The 6-foot-6 guard shot 44.8 percent from three-point range as a junior — the tenth highest mark in OSU history — and leads the Cowboy attack from deep with classmate and guard Thomas Dziagawa, who converted 42.5 percent of his three-point attempts as a junior. All strong rebounders, guard Isaac Likekele and forwards Cameron McGriff and Yor Anei join them in the starting lineup.

“Rebounding is going to be huge for us this game,” guard Matthue Cotton ’22 said. “They’re going to have a lot of size inside with lots of athleticism so it’s going to take five guys to crash the glass every possession to be successful. They’re also a team that’s going to try and pressure us defensively, so being able to handle that pressure and control the tempo for the game is really important.”

Charleston, Oklahoma State’s opponent on Wednesday night, entered the matchup ranked 144th in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy Ratings. The Bulldogs sat one place above Charleston at 143rd as the Cougars and Cowboys competed in South Carolina. While Charleston ultimately fell by 19, the Cougars hung around in the first half, amassing a nine-point lead and entering the halftime break tied at 30.

The Cowboys swatted four shots in the win. Anei himself, like Bruner, is averaging 3.3 blocks a game, a statistic that ranked 25th in the nation as of Thursday afternoon.

“I’ve heard they’ve got a lot of good shot blockers, and I heard they’re a really good rebounding team,” forward Paul Atkinson ’21 said. “With the shot blockers, [there’s] better opportunities to get offensive rebounds, so I think we’re going to try to attack there.”

Only three of Yale’s starters — guard Azar Swain ’21, Atkinson and Bruner — have consistently played significant minutes against Power Five opponents or during high-stakes postseason play. Guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 played 17 minutes at Duke last December — and drew a charge on former Blue Devil phenom Zion Williamson — but missed Ivy Madness and Yale’s March Madness matchup with LSU after an injury abridged his sophomore season. Guard Eric Monroe ’20 contributed 16 minutes at TCU as a sophomore and 29 at Memphis in a double-overtime marathon last season, but only combined for five minutes in the Elis’ two contests at Ivy Madness this past March. The Yale captain, who ranked 15th in all of D1 men’s basketball with a 7.00 assist-to-turnover ratio on Thursday afternoon, did not appear in the NCAA tournament.

Thus, Sunday’s game will represent the first opportunity many Elis have to take advantage of significant playing time in a loud, hostile environment. Cotton, who played 22 minutes in Yale’s 84–79 OT loss on Monday, combined to play only 15 across Memphis, Duke, Ivy Madness and March Madness last season. Assessing whether those new to the rotation will confront nerves is difficult, Bruner said, but new pieces have already weathered two overtime games this season.

“When you get the chance to compete in high level games that go down to the wire, you always get the chance to take away some things,” Swain said. “The season is still very young, so at this point, we are just trying to improve every day and just take the next steps to be better. We have another great opportunity at Oklahoma State on Sunday, so that’s where our focus is right now.”

Oklahoma State has dropped only nine nonconference games at home since 1987.

 

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu