MEN’S BASKETBALL: In Providence rematch, Bulldogs beat Brown 73–62
Cotton’s career-high 20 points, Atkinson’s 24 help Bulldogs to 2–0 start in Ivy play.
The Eli defense held strong Friday night, and a collection of well-timed three-pointers guided Yale to its 11th win in 12 games and a 2–0 start in an Ivy League play.
In the first half, guard Matthue Cotton ’22 provided the spark from deep, coming off the bench to hit four of his six attempts from beyond the arc in the frame. In the closing minutes, after consecutive triples from Brown (7–8, 0–2 Ivy) guards Zach Hunsaker and Brandon Anderson cut the Yale (14–4, 2–0) lead to six with 2:55 to play, guard Azar Swain ’21 offered an answer.
Two answers, actually. Three-pointers on consecutive Yale possessions marked the only three-point attempts Swain converted on the night, but they fell at the perfect moment. After the first, the sharpshooter lifted his index finger to his lips on his jog back to play defense, silencing Brown’s short-lived 8–0 run. 34 seconds later, he froze after hitting the second, staring down teammates on his own Yale bench. A near-capacity crowd of 2,575 supporters at Brown’s Pizzitola Sports Center had nothing left to say.
The Elis held their dozen-point lead through the end of regulation, ultimately winning 73–62 in a similar fashion to many of this season’s 14 wins. A strong perimeter defense held Brown to three-for-11 shooting from deep in the first half, while forward Paul Atkinson ’21 scored 24 points and missed only two attempts from the field. As Cotton simmered with 12 points in less than five minutes, the Elis opened up a lead midway through the first half and kept it secure for the duration of the game.
“I knew we were going to get Brown’s best effort,” head coach James Jones said. “I thought it was good that we played Howard in between games to get our minds off of Brown so we could focus on something else for awhile because it’s hard to focus on one team for six straight days. ‘Cause again, there’s only so much that you have to prepare for because you played the team the week before. So you know all the personnel, you know all the guys, you know tendencies. Now you just really gotta go out and execute.”
Brown head coach Mike Martin shifted his starting lineup for the second leg of the travel partners’ home-and-away series. Sophomore forward Jaylan Gainey, who played 27 minutes off the bench in a 70–56 Yale win on Jan. 17, made his first career start, and first year guard Perry Cowan joined him in the starting lineup. Forwards Matt DeWolf and Josh Howard, removed from the starting five for the first time all season, only combined to play 20 minutes Friday. As starters, Cowan converted a trio of three-pointers, while Gainey had a much quieter night, grabbing three rebounds without attempting a field goal. The duo had combined for 19 points in the Ivy opener, and Jones said he wasn’t surprised by the lineup change in Friday’s rematch.
Brown students, who started classes for the spring semester last Wednesday, filled six total sections of tall bleachers on each baseline, helping the Bears to an energized start. Anderson hit his first three-point attempt of the game and scored six points in the first five minutes, as many as the season-low he posted in New Haven.
Brown led 8–4 after two of Anderson’s free throws fell with 15:23 in the half, just as Cotton and forward Wyatt Yess ’21 entered the contest.
“Although Wyatt didn’t score the way Paul scored last year, he came out, he got seven rebounds,” Jones said. “You expect the guys to come off the bench and play a role and do what they’re supposed to do, and our guys did that tonight… Jalen [Gabbidon ’21] is our number one defensive player and stopper, and he does such a good job for us, and it’s hard to take him off the floor. It’s hard to take Azar off the floor, hard to take Eric off the floor. It’s hard to keep Matt on the bench.”
Cotton played tremendously well, scoring nine points in his first seven minutes on the court. His first two came on a deep mid-range jumper at the top of the key, and a pair of free throws and triples followed. On the defensive end, he forced a missed shot from Brown guard Dan Friday after the first year, who has 25 pounds on Cotton, tried to back him down under the rim. Cotton hit two more threes in the half, finishing the game with a career-high 20 points on five-for-10 shooting from behind the arc.
Behind Cotton’s 15 at the half — one shy of his career-best — Yale entered the break up 33–25.
“When I make shots, I can,” Cotton said. “The guys always find me… some of the games I haven’t been shooting well, it’s been tough, but all the coaches and the guys around me, [they] just have faith in me and expect good things out of me. It’s helped immensely.”
Both teams started cold at the beginning of the second half, shooting a combined four-for-23 to start the frame. Yale missed its first five three-point attempts of the half, but continued to find Atkinson in the post. Scoring eight points from the free throw line, he contributed a dozen points in the period.
Gabbidon picked up his third foul early in the half, sending Cotton back into the game — his 26 minutes marked a career-high for a non-overtime game. He cooled from deep in the second, but scored a one-handed slam in the half, driving past his defender and rising to the left side of the hoop to make it 43–30 with a little more than 12 minutes to play.
The Eli advantage hovered around 10 for the rest of the evening, even as the Bears, led by Anderson and junior forward Tamenang Choh, sought a comeback. Choh collected a game-high 11 rebounds, while sophomore guard David Mitchell grabbed nine, including four on the offensive glass. The duo combined to out-rebound Yale on the offensive glass, as the Elis finished the game with six after collecting just one in the first half. Entering the matchup, the Bulldogs ranked first of all 353 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams with 31.2 defensive rebounds a game. Their relative weakness on the offensive glass — Yale averages 8.4 a game, ranked 301st in the nation as of Sunday afternoon — is striking.
“One of the things we try to work on as a team is getting better at offensive rebounding,” Atkinson said. “We know it. We’re trying to work on it, but I think it has a lot to do with us worrying about things that aren’t offensive rebound related, and we just gotta get into that mindset.”
Jones said Yale’s offensive spacing often pulls players away from the basket, but wants to see more Elis “knifing in” to crash the offensive glass.
Coaches from both teams wore sneakers for the game in support of the Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers week. Referees used pink whistles with bright pink lanyards. Most of the Brown staff wore yellow laces with their Nikes, while Jones sported a dark suit with a white dress shirt and an all-white pair of Under Armour HOVRs. He said he matched the shoes and shirt on purpose, and though the cause means a lot to him, the sneakers don’t.
“I’ll do anything for cancer,” Jones said. “I lost my mom to it, so it’s a great cause and I’m happy to do it. But I do not like wearing sneakers with my suit… I’m a creature of habit. I’m much more comfortable wearing what I normally wear.”
Yale has swept the Bears in five of the past six seasons.
William McCormack | email@example.com