MEN’S BASKETBALL: Shooting secures weekend sweep in 86–71 win over Cornell
Six three-pointers from guard Azar Swain ’21 stretched the floor, allowing forward Paul Atkinson ’21 to thrive inside. The duo combined for 49 points.
In New Haven, fans of Yale men’s basketball head coach James Jones aren’t too difficult to come by these days.
On Saturday night, Head of Pauli Murray College and professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures Tina Lu showed her support by swinging a large, printed cutout in the stands with the coach’s smiling face as Yale (16–4, 4–0 Ivy) completed a weekend sweep of Columbia (6–14, 1–3) and Cornell (4–13, 1–3). Jones’ wife sent Lu the picture for the cutout, and Murray aides helped Lu tape it to a foam core with yellow flip-flops to use as handles. Lu’s neighbor, Jones, has lived in Murray since it opened in 2017.
Overcoming the loss of four starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad, Jones has guided the Elis to 13 wins in their last 14 games. During Saturday night’s 86–71 win over the Big Red, he was a focused figure on the sidelines.
“He is a tremendous part of our community, and we all love him,” Lu said before the start of the second half. “I was sitting way down in the student bleachers before, kind of trying to bounce [the cutout] around, and I saw no sign from his face that he had seen [it].”
Behind a season-high 14 three-pointers, Yale took down Columbia 93–62 on Friday night, the Bulldogs’ largest margin of victory in an Ivy League game since February 2012. In the second leg of the back-to-back against Cornell, Eli shooters remained accurate from deep, converting five triples within the first eight minutes of the first half. Cornell briefly overcame 17 first half points from guard Azar Swain ’21, who made four of his five attempts from deep in the frame, to narrow the halftime deficit to three. But 18 second half points from forward Paul Atkinson ’21 put the game out of reach and helped extend Yale’s win streak to six.
Swain finished with 25, Atkinson ended with 24 and 11 rebounds and forward Jordan Bruner ’20 fell two assists short of a triple-double, contributing 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. As of Sunday, Yale ranks 20th in all of NCAA Division I men’s basketball with a 38 percent mark from deep.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of really good shooters on this team,” Jones said. “Azar, the degree of difficulty in terms of some of the shots he makes are just ridiculous. The last three he hit, he could’ve been four feet closer to the basket, but he doesn’t care. His ability to make shots is really important for our team. It stretches defenses. It makes Paul’s job easier in the post. And hitting timely shots is obviously really important — he did a lot of that tonight.”
Guard Matthue Cotton ’22 showed off his shooting ability Friday night against Columbia, matching the career high of 20 points that he set at Brown after hitting four three-pointers in the first. Cotton, Swain, guard August Mahoney ’23 and captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 contributed all 14 of Yale’s threes, shooting a combined 58 percent from deep. A 93-point outburst comfortably carried the Bulldogs to victory.
Yale opened its Saturday night showdown with a 7–0 run and extended its lead to a dozen, 25–13, after a free throw from Swain with a little more than 11 minutes to play. The sharpshooting guard was electric on Saturday, hitting his first three three-point attempts and working inside the perimeter with two offensive rebounds. An arching mid-range jumper fell with six to go in the half after Swain danced off his defender, and a fourth conversion from deep with 3:33 to play in the half brought Yale’s lead back to a dozen, 40–28.
A 9–0 run from Cornell — which shot a season-high 13-of-27 from deep on the night — made it a three-point game at halftime.
“We’re a confident group,” Swain said. “We’re going to take teams’ best shots every time we step out there. Credit to them, they played really hard. They executed a lot of their stuff, but we have a great coaching staff. Everybody believes in each other, so as a group we just rally in times like that, and I think it’s made us stronger throughout the year.”
The 1,506 people in attendance brought energy at the start of the second half as Yale sought to extend its 42–39 lead at the break. Monroe drained a corner three-pointer less than 90 seconds into the half, calmly collecting and firing to cap a possession of rapid ball movement — Swain’s assist was Yale’s fifth pass in seven seconds. The junior got his own look on the next possession, hitting a deep triple to make it 52–45.
Yale’s advantage hovered around eight for most of the period, and the Bulldogs funneled the ball to Atkinson down low. Yale scored 26 of its 44 second half points in the paint.
The Elis led 67–61 during a media timeout with a little under eight minutes to play.
“Coach Jones challenged us to win by more than 10,” Atkinson said. “I think we kind of just took it. We came out [of the timeout], we made some big shots. I think it came down to defense at the end. We kind of just started pulling away.”
Atkinson made two free throws after the timeout, starting an 8–2 run and creating momentum that carried Yale through the final buzzer. An acrobatic finish by Atkinson under the hoop extended the lead to 73–61, and a 30-second timeout called by Cornell head coach Brian Earl pumped up the Bulldogs on their way to the bench.
A pair of dunks from Atkinson, a two-handed slam from guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 on a slick pass from Bruner and one final three-pointer for Swain added to Yale’s advantage in the final four minutes. About a dozen Yale students had received an in-game upgrade, moving from the student section to padded courtside seating at halftime.
At one point, Jones finally caught sight of Lu’s cutout.
“Paul [Atkinson] actually pointed it out,” Jones said. “He goes, ‘Hey coach, you got a little fan club over there.’ I knew they were coming to the game. It’s a nice touch to support the program. We just need more of that. This is a really good basketball team, these guys work really hard, we’re [ranked] in the 40s in the country, and it’d be nice if we could sell the place out. I expect that to happen against Harvard on Friday night, and I’d love to see it happen Saturday night against Dartmouth.”
Yale, which sits atop the Ancient Eight standings with Princeton, hosts the Crimson on Friday at 5 p.m.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org