MEN’S BASKETBALL: Bulldogs seek Brown sweep in Providence
Yale enters the rematch holding opponents to 36.5 percent shooting from the field and 27.5 percent from beyond the arc, percentages that respectively rank fifth and sixth in all of NCAA Division I men’s basketball as of Thursday afternoon.
Yale has tipped off the conference slate with consecutive games against Brown, its Ivy League travel partner, in 13 of the past 14 seasons. But this year, for the first time since 2003, Yale played a nonconference contest after the opening night of league play. Monday’s 89–75 win at Howard marked the Bulldogs’ 12th regular season non-league victory of the campaign, setting a school record.
The roughly 48-hour trip to Washington D.C. over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend offered a brief break from conference play, which Yale (13–4, 1–0 Ivy) resumes Friday night at Brown (7–7, 0–1). The Elis held Bruno to a dozen points under its scoring average in the opening installment of the Bears-Bulldogs series, a 70–56 Yale win in New Haven last Friday. Replicating that defensive effort would likely grant the Elis their fifth sweep of Brown in six years.
The trip to Howard may have decreased the time Yale has been able to devote to its upcoming rematch, but finding the right film to study won’t be a challenge.
“Scouting a team for the second game in such a short period of time is a bit easier,” guard Matthue Cotton ’22 said. “Typically when you scout a team, you’re watching how they play against other teams. In this case since we just played them, we’re actually getting to watch ourselves against them. We can prep for how exactly they play us … it allows us to see areas where we struggled and find ways to fix those issues next time around.”
Many view the Ivy League’s back-to-back, Friday-Saturday format as the signature feature of conference play, and while Ancient Eight teams won’t begin back-to-back play until next weekend, this second weekend of the league schedule is arguably just as unique. Princeton beat Penn in two consecutive weekends to start the month, but games between Brown and Yale, Dartmouth and Harvard and Cornell and Columbia all pit travel partners in rematches this weekend.
In college basketball, opponents rarely meet in consecutive games. Win-or-go-home tournaments — during November’s “feast week,” conference tournament showdowns in early March, or with the ultimate March Madness bracket that concludes each season — offer so much of the sport’s appeal. A rematch with the same team, on the other hand, requires shrewd, detailed planning. Coaches and players can approach the second leg with an almost game-theoretic approach to strategy.
“Our general gameplan may not change that much, but a few of the details of it will change,” Cotton added. “But just like we have a week to evaluate and change our gameplan, [Brown has] that same amount of time too. We’re going to have to be ready for what new looks they may throw at us and be able to capitalize on those situations.”
Yale took Tuesday off after returning from D.C., returning to practice on Wednesday. Unlike the Elis, the Bears did not play a nonconference game this week. Brown students, in fact, didn’t begin spring semester classes until Wednesday, the deadline for Yale forward EJ Jarvis ’23 and guard August Mahoney ’23 to submit their signed schedules as members of the class of 2023.
Instead, Brown has spent the week practicing on its home floor in Providence, bussing back to Rhode Island last Friday night after losing at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. Its leading scorer and senior guard Brandon Anderson contributed a season-low six points last week, turning the ball over seven times. He and junior forward Tamenang Choh combined to shoot five-for-22 from the field during the game. A 13–0 run and eight free throws kept Brown close in the first half, but Yale distanced itself early in the second.
Forward Jordan Bruner ’20, who scored 15 of his season-high 23 in the second frame, earned Ivy League Player of the Week on Monday. The 6-foot-9-inch senior leads Yale with 2.3 blocks a game, while guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 paces the Elis with 1.4 steals per contest.
“Especially last year, we came out, and we tried to really focus on guarding,” Bruner said after the win. “We saw where it got us. So [this year], it’s like, how could you not really care about guarding a whole lot? We’ve been successful this year with it. Jalen’s put his time in and sacrificed. I have a different role every game. Everybody does. Me and Jalen took turns guarding Tamenang Choh, and he guarded a little bit of Anderson. He guarded a little bit of everybody. It’s Yale guarding Brown, and that’s what it is.”
Defense has always been a priority for Yale under head coach James Jones, whose coaching maxim begins with its imperative: “Defend. Rebound. Share.” This season’s group has successfully made it their “calling card,” as Gabbidon put it in December. Yale enters the weekend holding opponents to 36.5 percent shooting from the field and a 27.5 percent clip from deep this season, defensive field goal percentages that respectively rank fifth and sixth in all of NCAA Division I men’s basketball as of Thursday afternoon.
Sophomore forward Jaylan Gainey was one of the only Bears who bucked the trend. Brown shot 34.6 percent from the field last week, but Gainey made five of his eight attempts. He put down a dunk in each half, including a one-handed alley-oop in the second, and grabbed a game-high four offensive rebounds. Five blocks for the 6-foot-9 forward, who leads the Ancient Eight with 2.4 a game, fell two short of his season-high — seven against Merrimack that tied Brown’s single-game record in December. His first career start could potentially fall on Friday if head coach Mike Martin elects to remove junior forward Matt DeWolf, who played seven minutes compared to Gainey’s 27 off the bench last Friday, from the starting lineup.
DeWolf guarded forward Paul Atkinson ’21 to start, and Brown frequently double-teamed Yale’s leading scorer upon him receiving the ball in the post. Atkinson, who shot a season-low 40 percent on Friday, said he has been “expecting [double teams] a lot” as the season progresses. When a second defender, such as Brown forward Joshua Howard, rushes to double team, the Eli looks for a pass.
“I know that someone is going to be open because they’re bringing two people at once,” Atkinson said. “I just try to find that open spot or find someone who’s going to make the pass to the open spot … I think it’s a route [my teammates] want to go just because it opens them up along the floor. They have better options they can take when I’m getting double teamed.”
ESPNU will nationally broadcast Friday’s 7 p.m. game from Providence’s Pizzitola Sports Center.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org