MEN’S BASKETBALL: Yale primed for Lehigh after Albany win
The Ivy League’s top defense takes a four-game winning streak to Bethlehem, Pa.
Upstate New York experienced three-point precipitation Wednesday night as Bulldog triples rained down in the second half against Albany.
Yale (7–3, 0–0 Ivy) took down the Great Danes (5–4, 0–0 America East) 61–52, largely thanks to a powerful second period in which the Elis shot six-of-12 from beyond the arc and 50 percent overall from the field. Forward Jordan Bruner ’20, who hit five of his seven three-point attempts, led Yale with 17 points, sending the Elis back to New Haven with their fourth straight win.
Now, the Bulldogs — who held Albany to 15 points below its season average — bring their conference-best defense to Lehigh (3–6, 0–0 Patriot) on Saturday at 7 p.m. Though the Mountain Hawks have lost four straight games, Lehigh has played competitively with the Elis in recent seasons and scored an average of 81.7 points in their last three meetings.
“The team is preparing to face a hungry squad like Lehigh by making sure we pay attention to details,” guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 said. “Our calling card has been our ability to dominate the lane and shut teams down defensively. We are as talented and deep as any team out there, so every game really comes down to making sure we continue to play our brand of basketball and making sure we understand the other team’s personnel and tendencies. If we continue to do those things, we will continue to have the same success down the road.”
The Blue and White has held opponents to an average of 61.7 points per game, a collective 34.7 percent field-goal percentage and 25.9 percent shooting from beyond the three-point line — all league-bests. Opponents’ 34.7 percent shooting from the field also ranks sixth in all of NCAA Division I men’s basketball as of Thursday afternoon.
Gabbidon, who head coach James Jones said is Yale’s strongest perimeter defender this season, has contributed significantly to that defensive success. A native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he will play about 90 minutes from home this weekend on Lehigh’s Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, campus.
Against Albany, the six-foot-five guard also scored a career-high 10 points, all of which came in the second half. The Elis, outrebounded in the first frame, found themselves down 29–28 at the break.
“We knew we needed to turn up the intensity on defense and dictate the tempo of the game more than we did in the first half,” guard Azar Swain ’21 said. “In the second half, we were able to get in transition more and shut down some of their key guys.”
Whatever Jones said in the locker room at halftime lit a fire under the Bulldogs. The team opened up on a 13–5 run to begin the half. Bruner and Gabbidon traded off, pouring in shots from the outside and contributing 13 points in just under five minutes; however, it was defense that allowed Yale to pull away. The Great Danes shot a poor eight-of-26 from the floor in the second half. Bruner hit three of his five bombs from deep in the second, while Albany’s leading scorer, sophomore Cameron Healy, was held to just eight points with two turnovers during the final period.
The 61–52 win now sends Yale to Pennsylvania with momentum. The Bulldogs have won five of their past six games. Its three losses this season come by a combined 14-point deficit against three teams that now collectively boast a 22–4 record.
Lehigh, meanwhile, has gotten off to a slow start in its 2019 campaign, showing major weaknesses that the Elis can exploit on both the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. The Mountain Hawks are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, due in major part to carelessness with the ball. Lehigh has committed 134 turnovers already through just nine games. In addition to the turnover woes, the Mountain Hawks have only 112 assists, relying on isolation buckets rather than setting up teammates.
While its record might not seem intimidating, Lehigh did defeat Albany, who gave Yale all it could handle into the second half of Wednesday’s game, and went to toe-to-toe with Monmouth and Columbia. Both losses were decided by four points apiece. Senior guard Jordan Cohen is leading the way for the Mountain Hawks with 14 points per game, shooting the ball at a 45-percent clip. Yale will need to close out hard on freshman guard Evan Taylor, whose three-point field-goal percentage stands at 41.2. The Illinois native went five for six from deep in Lehigh’s 80–43 win against Division III Cairn earlier this year.
Last season, Lehigh visited Yale for the Elis’ first home game in early December. Guards Trey Phills ’19 and Miye Oni each netted 20 points, while then-captain and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 contributed a double-double with 12 points and ten rebounds. After the game, Jones said facing the Mountain Hawks was “like playing a top-half team in our league.”
“I mean, there are definitely similarities between our conferences,” captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 said. “I think that the style of play is similar. Lehigh’s always been a tough game for us. They always put up a good fight.”
Yale and Lehigh have split their all-time series, 8–8, though the Bulldogs have taken four consecutive meetings dating back to the 2015—16 season.
Lehigh’s last win over Yale came on New Year’s Eve in 2010. A 62–57 decision in which then-Mountain Hawk sophomore CJ McCollum — now the Portland Trail Blazers’ starting shooting guard — led all scorers with 16 points at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, secured victory for Lehigh.
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