MEN’S BASKETBALL: Swain, Yale overcome Harvard heartbreaker with 75–57 Dartmouth win
Guard Azar Swain ’21 came out firing, scoring 16 of the Elis’ first 23 points, while forward Wyatt Yess ’21 shined in his first career start.
Yale men’s basketball forward Wyatt Yess ’21 got a text from his head coach, James Jones, on Friday night.
The junior had played ten minutes off the bench in the Elis’ heartbreaking loss to Harvard earlier that evening, grabbing four rebounds and distributing two assists but attempting zero field goals. So Jones sent him a message, encouraging him to look for his own scoring opportunities.
“I told him to look at the basket today,” the 21st-year head coach said Saturday. “I don’t think he looked at it once yesterday and obviously that makes a difference.”
It was not the first time Jones has urged the 6-foot-8 forward to shoot this season, and as he did before drilling a three-pointer against Brown last month, Yess took his coach’s advice to heart heading into the Elis’ Saturday night contest with Dartmouth (7–14, 0–6 Ivy). Forward Jordan Bruner ’20 sat against the Big Green with a knee injury he sustained late in Yale’s 78–77 loss to Harvard (14–7, 3–3) on Friday, so Yess filled in, making his first-ever start. He kicked off the Yale (17–5, 5–1) offense with a three-pointer and finished the game with a career-high 11 points on four-of-five shooting.
Guard Azar Swain ’21 — who scored 27 of a career-high 33 points in the second half against Crimson — brought his silky stroke to Saturday night’s Dartmouth game, hitting his first six shot attempts and scoring 16 of Yale’s first 23 points. The Elis jumped to a 23–9 lead, and Swain finished with a game-high 21 points, sending his weekend total to 53.
“I thought we came out really well,” Jones said. “Azar was on fire to start the game. I left him in for the first 14 or 16 minutes of the half because he had been playing so well… I thought our energy to start the game was terrific. Obviously no hangover [after Harvard], and our guys felt good and they played well.”
On Friday, 2,706 Yale fans packed the John J. Lee Amphitheater to take in Yale’s battle with the Crimson. It did not disappoint.
Yale trailed by as much as 15 late in the first half and remained down 73–60 after Crimson forward Danilo Djuricic finished a bucket under the hoop with about five minutes to play. But Yale stormed back in the final minutes, drawing on Atkinson — who scored a career-high 28 points, accounting for nearly all of Yale’s offense in the first — and Swain, whose second half performance defied expectations. An 11–0 run narrowed the lead to two, as Swain’s electric rally ultimately culminated in the four-point play that never was: a miraculous three-pointer from Swain that fell with two seconds to go, an official review that lasted four minutes and eight seconds and a missed free throw to solidify the final score at 78–77.
“You know, you want to lock in as much as you can on the game at hand,” captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 said after the Dartmouth win. “It’s a bad feeling when you wake up, but you gotta kind of reset your mind and focus on the game… we were talking to each other, [saying] ‘Next game, next game,’ cause this one’s just as important as the last, so we did a good job of resetting our mindset.”
Swain’s stroke from deep didn’t require any resetting. He hit four three-pointers after the opening tip, scoring 16 points in less than nine minutes without missing a single shot and extending the Yale lead to 23–9. Monroe, meanwhile, picked up four assists in the first three minutes, finishing the game with eight.
But the Big Green hung around, drawing on a balanced attack to inch back. A three-pointer from guard Ian Sistare brought Yale’s lead down to four, 32–28, and a 7–0 run late in the half featured five points from senior guard James Foye, whose fastbreak finish with 1:30 to play tied the score at 35. Eight different players scored in the frame for Dartmouth, with none responsible for more than seven points. Yale led 40–36 at the half
Yess scored Yale’s first five points of the second, including another three-pointer, this time from the top of the key. In 48 prior appearances, Yess had only converted three total three-pointers. On Saturday night, he matched his career total with another three.
A microphone malfunction before the start of the game meant his name was never actually announced as part of Saturday’s starting lineup
“I actually found out [Saturday] that I was going to be starting,” Yess said. “This is what you practice for every day. It was great having a great deal of confidence instilled upon me with my teammates and my coach texting me last night, ‘Hey look at the rim,’ so [I was] a little nervous, but very excited… I get shots up with the coaches from time to time. It just comes back to confidence, stepping into it and having confidence in yourself and knowing that your teammates have confidence in you.”
Atkinson was his usual reliable self, leading all Elis with 8 points in the second and finishing with a game-high eight rebounds. Yess added seven. Yale limited Dartmouth to six points through the first 12 minutes of the second half, restricting the Big Green to eight-for-25 shooting and an 18.2 percent mark from deep in the frame.
With Bruner out, Jones leaned on forward Jameel Alausa ’21, who logged 14 minutes, to provide off the bench. Forward Austin Williams ’20 played in the first half, while forward Isaiah Kelly ’22 made a productive appearance in the middle of the second half, scoring four points and pulling down two offensive boards in five minutes. His tip-in with 10:30 to play brought the Bulldog advantage to 56–42.
Jones said Bruner, who landed awkwardly on his left leg contesting a three-point attempt on Friday, felt better Saturday than he did the night before. The 6-foot-9 senior, who entered the weekend ranked eleventh in all of Division I men’s basketball with 7.68 defensive rebounds a game, injured his knee at the 3:29 mark on Friday, missing 29 seconds of game play before returning for the final three minutes.
“His range of motion is better than it was last night,” Jones said. “I don’t know that you feel better if there’s something wrong. Normally if there’s something wrong, you just feel bad until you get it fixed. The fact that he feels better is great, and I spoke to him today, and he felt like he was going to have to tolerate some pain but he thought he’d be able to play this weekend, but we’ll see. It’s a day to day thing, but we’ll see and hopefully guys can step up and play when they’re needed.”
Yale resumes Ivy League play with a trip to Princeton and Penn next weekend.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org