William McCormack

In 2016, when Yale men’s basketball collected its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, Nick Victor ’16 led the Elis on defense. In 2019, Trey Phills ’19 assumed the responsibility, opening conference play by limiting former Brown guard Desmond Cambridge to three-for-18 shooting from the field and shadowing opponents all the way to Jacksonville, Fla., the site of Yale’s second March Madness appearance under head coach James Jones.

Now, with a new decade of Ivy League play officially underway and the Elis’ shot at a third tournament berth under Jones less than two months away, Jalen Gabbidon ’21 is the apparent heir to Yale’s defensive mantle.

On Friday night, the junior guard — who registered a career-high 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals for Yale (12–4, 1–0 Ivy) — oversaw a collective defensive effort that led the Elis to a 70–56 win over Brown (7–7, 0–1) in their Ivy League opener. The Bulldogs restricted the Bears to a three-for-21 clip from three-point range and 35 percent shooting from the field. Forward Jordan Bruner ’20 led the offense with a season-high 23 points, including 15 in the second half, while his frontcourt accomplice and forward Paul Atkinson ’21 recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Senior guard Brandon Anderson and junior forward Tamenang Choh averaged a combined 33.2 points a game for the Bears heading into Friday night, but Yale restricted the duo to five-for-22 shooting from the field.

“I thought we did a really good job with guys taking the challenge one-on-one and making it tough for them,” Jones said. “We’ve had a great changing of the guard with guys who just put their time in and be our best defensive player on the perimeter, and Jalen has taken that role… It’s great for a coach to know that going into a game, you’re going to have a guy who’s gonna sacrifice and give up himself to try to shut down somebody on the other end.”

 

Although matchups often shifted as halfcourt play evolved over the course of each possession, Gabbidon primarily guarded Choh, while captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 spent most of his time on Anderson. Choh still managed to finish with 18 thanks to 12 points on 15 attempts from the free throw line, but Anderson scored a season-low 6 points, turning the ball over seven times.

The Elis opened the night with a 7–0 run, and Brown scored only two points in the contest’s first six minutes. Ball movement facilitated Yale scoring throughout the night, as the Elis assisted on 15 of their 21 field goals. On Swain’s first shot of the night, a contested three-pointer from the wing that made it 5–0, Monroe and Gabbidon each pump-faked on the possession, passing the rock along until it found Swain a few feet beyond the three-point arc.

Gabbidon’s turn would come. Towards the middle of the half, he sparked a 9–3 spurt for the Bulldogs with two consecutive three-pointers — the second inspired a stoic double fist pump from Jones, crouched near halfcourt by the scorer’s table, and expanded the early lead to 20–11. The Pennsylvania native has started all 16 games this year, but only averages 4.9 points a contest.

“I haven’t been a scorer most of this year, that hasn’t been my role,” Gabbidon said. “Whatever it takes to win, I’ll do. If that requires me passing up shots to get other guys open, that’s what I’ll do. A lot of guys sacrifice on this team… When you watch Trey Phills every game for two years go out and play defense like that, and that’s your role, you just learn to accept it. We had success that way, and if we can have success with me doing the same thing, that’s what I’m going to do.”

 

After drawing a charge on Choh about 30 seconds before, Monroe extended the lead to a dozen when his pull-up triple on the fast break fell with about eight minutes to play. A full student section screamed their support, and head coach Mike Martin called a 30-second timeout after the bucket. The Bears launched a 13–0 run after huddling up, getting six points from sophomore forward Jaylan Gainey and a three-pointer from first-year guard Dan Friday to give Brown a 24–23 lead, its first (and only) of the night.

Swain, whose Mass Rivals AAU coach Vin Pastore sat behind the Yale bench Friday, soon made it 29–24 with another long, contested three-pointer. The Elis entered halftime up 31–28, but opened the second with an 8–2 run.

“We came out in the second half, we were like, ‘They can’t play with us,’ so we just turned it up,” Bruner said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to play better in the second half. We’re supposed to come in [at halftime] and adjust to what we see, we talk about it, and we try to get each other going a little bit more.”

Bruner scored 15, including a trio of three-pointers, and grabbed six rebounds in the period to help Yale maintain a ten-point lead for most of the half. The senior earned a standing ovation and a quick hug from Jones upon checking out of the game with 12 seconds to go.

 

11 foul shots in the first helped the Bears stay within single digits, but both teams made frequent trips to the charity stripe in the second, and Brown never seriously threatened after Yale’s run to start the half. Officials Paul Faia, Donnie Eppley and Jawaan Williams called 40 fouls, and the two teams combined for 35 points from the line. Monroe, Gabbidon, Bruner and Atkinson all finished the game with more than three fouls, and once forward Jameel Alausa ’21 picked up his second foul within thirty seconds of play in the first half, Jones called on forward Wyatt Yess ’21. The 6-foot-8 junior nearly tripled his season-high in minutes against an NCAA Division I opponent Friday, playing 14 and contributing five points and five rebounds along the way.

Jones pulled Yess aside at one point in the second half, offering stern instructions as the forward silently nodded. A few possessions later, Yess drained a three-pointer to make it 44–32 — Jones couldn’t help but smile.

“He wouldn’t look at the damn basket,” Jones said. “In practice, he makes that shot. If you’re not going to look at the basket, no one’s going to guard you. So at least look at it. Act like you want to make a shot. So he did and I’m happy for him… We have a lot of guys that come to practice every day and work really hard, and he’s one of them. Sometimes, you don’t reap the benefits of that. The fact that he’s able to come in and contribute and reap the benefits of his hard work is what you live for as a coach.”

Yale will watch film and get shots up Saturday, Jones said, beginning preparation for its final nonconference game of the regular season.

The Elis tip off with Howard on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, at noon.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu

WILLIAM MCCORMACK
William McCormack currently serves as a Sports and Digital Editor for the Yale Daily News. He previously covered men’s basketball and the athletic administration as a staff reporter. Originally from Boston, he is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.