MEN’S BASKETBALL: Bulldogs end winter break with 50-point thumping of Division III Johnson and Wales
Yale scored 60 points in the second half, concluding a winter break that featured a win at Clemson and a three-point loss to North Carolina.
Two months and 15 games into the men’s basketball season, the Elis have grown comfortable playing in close games. Over winter break, the Bulldogs collected a single-digit win at Clemson before falling at North Carolina by three, while the rest of the nonconference slate has featured four overtime games and six overtime periods.
Sunday afternoon’s game was decidedly not one of those close ones. Facing Division III side Johnson & Wales (7–7, 0–1 GNAC) at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, Yale (11–4, 0–0 Ivy) scored 60 points in the second half en route to a 108–58 win. The 50-point victory marked Yale’s highest point total since defeating DIII opponent Albertus Magnus, 112–63, in December 2012, and fell 6 points short of breaking the all-time program record, a 114–74 win versus Middlebury in 1980, also a Division III opponent.
First-year guard August Mahoney ’23, forward Paul Atkinson ’21 and captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 combined for 41 points to lead the Bulldogs on an afternoon when all 13 active Elis scored. Head coach James Jones called the win a “learning experience” as nonconference play nears its conclusion and Yale prepares to host Brown on Friday.
“You don’t ever want to lose any games, but you feel good about being 11–4 considering what our schedule is and how many road games we play,” Jones said. “I think this was [the] fourth home game we’ve had all year, so we’ve been away from our building. I don’t even know what it looks like in here; we’ve been away so long. That being said, I feel good about where we are, and it’s starting now. Now we gotta get ready to go.”
Guard Azar Swain ’21 and forward Jordan Bruner ’20, who had started all 14 games prior to Sunday’s win, both missed the game with injuries. Swain continues to recover from a left ankle injury he sustained a day before the Bulldogs’ game at UNC on Dec. 30, while Jones said Bruner became a last-minute scratch after tweaking his knee during warmups. Jones said both would have likely played if the game had been an Ivy League one.
The Bulldogs dished the ball down low to start, taking advantage of sizing mismatches across the lineup. Johnson and Wales’ tallest player — forward John White — stands at 6-foot-6, only an inch taller than Yale guards Jalen Gabbidon ’21 and Matthue Cotton ’22, who started on Sunday. Yale fed Atkinson from the start, and the Florida native had eight points and four rebounds within the first five minutes. His next basket of the afternoon came under the hoop on a well-placed pass from forward Wyatt Yess ’21, who finished with a game-high eight rebounds alongside guard Michael Feinberg ’22, and extended the Eli lead to 27–14 midway through the half with his assist.
The Wildcats converted six of their first 12 attempts from deep and ended the half shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. Junior forward Nate Patenaude provided three of seven first-half triples and entered the break with 11 points, while senior guard Brian Hogan-Gary — who entered the afternoon ranked 15th among NCAA Division III men’s basketball players averaging 23.8 points per game — ended the period with a dozen.
His two free throws with 7:57 to play in the frame trimmed Yale’s lead to 27–24, its lowest since the opening minute. The 6-foot-4 senior dropped 31 points in the Wildcats’ 79–53 loss to Brown last week, but he would only score two more points the rest of the afternoon, finishing the game with 14. Yale responded to the free throws with a 21–7 run to close out the half, leading 48–31 at the break.
“When they tightened it up … we kind of tightened up because we were like, ‘Dang, we should be winning this by more right now,’” Monroe said. “But in general, when you get rolling, you can definitely play loose and play free. It’s important to try and stay within what we do, so the game doesn’t go to waste, and we can actually work on stuff we want to work on.”
As in Yale’s other game with a DIII opponent this year, a 94–37 win over Oberlin in which the Elis enjoyed a 29–2 second-half run, the Bulldog offense exploded after halftime. A 17–4 run ignited scoring in the half, and Monroe hit his first four shots of the period, contributing a quick nine points. An open three-pointer preceded two buckets in transition — layup finishes high at the rim that many teammates (and Monroe, he admitted postgame) thought should have been dunks.
Forward Isaiah Kelly ’22 took the burden on himself, throwing down two thunderous dunks as part of eight points in the period. Guard Eze Dike-Nwagbara ’22 first found Kelly, who took off far beyond the paint, for a soaring one-handed slam on the fast break. 70 seconds later, Kelly rose to the hoop again, driving the baseline to finish a two-handed, and-one dunk.
6-foot-4 Mahoney worked the outside, hitting a career-high, four three-pointers. Three came in the second half, including six consecutive points for the Elis and an NBA-range conversion. The first year, a three-point specialist, finished with a team-high 16 points, doubling his previous career best of eight points.
“I knew I always had the capability of shooting the ball, but so far this year I haven’t really found my stroke in the game,” Mahoney said. “It was nice today to come out and shoot well because it was definitely a confidence booster.”
Jones, who sported a gray three-piece suit from China for the game, said the team will have off on Monday, Yale’s first day of classes for the spring semester. Though the Bulldogs’ most recent game before Sunday was its late December contest in Chapel Hill, players have been on campus since Jan. 5, concluding their shortened winter break where they started it, preparing for Clemson in New Haven. The 54–45 win in South Carolina represents the game of which Jones is proudest thus far, he said.
“I’m undefeated in that building [Littlejohn Coliseum], so that’s a good thing,” he added. “That feels pretty good. We beat ‘em down in 2001 … [And] taking Carolina down to the last shot, that’s always going to be special.”
While Yale has done “some things in practice” to prepare for Brown, Jones and Monroe said preparation will start in earnest this week.
Although Friday’s game with the Bears inaugurates league play for the Elis, Yale’s final nonconference match will take place next Monday, Jan. 20, when the Bulldogs travel to Washington, D.C. for a matinee matchup with Howard.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org