MEN’S BASKETBALL: Princeton, Penn pose road test, first-place battle for Bulldogs
Guard Azar Swain ’21 enters the weekend with 68 three-pointers this season, four short of Yale’s single-season record.
As Yale men’s basketball searches for a solo spot atop the Ivy League standings this weekend, guard Azar Swain ’21 is on the cusp of breaking a significant school record.
28 years ago, 5-foot-11 senior guard Ed Petersen ’92 hit 72 three-pointers during the 1991–1992 season to set a new school record. Now, with 68 triples to his name and eight regular season games to play, Swain needs to convert five three-pointers to set a new single-season record.
Averaging a league-best 3.1 conversions from deep per game, the junior sharpshooter is poised to surpass Petersen’s mark this weekend as Yale (17–5, 5–1 Ivy) travels to face Princeton (10–9, 5–1) and Penn (12–7, 4–2). Currently in a tie with the Tigers for first place, the Elis play at Jadwin Gymnasium in a nationally-televised game on ESPNews Friday night at 7 p.m. before traversing state lines for a 6 p.m. tip with the Quakers — who enter the weekend tied for third with Brown — on Saturday at The Palestra.
Forward Paul Atkinson ’21, who needs 51 points to join the Bulldogs’ 1000-point club, will meet two of the Ivy League’s most talented big men, Princeton center Richmond Aririguzoh and Penn forward AJ Brodeur, in battles between teams at the top of the Ancient Eight standings. With the stakes so high, Swain hasn’t given much thought to his imminent contribution to Yale history.
“It hasn’t been on my mind one bit,” Swain said. “I’m focused on winning these next few games. When it does happen though, I’ll enjoy that moment. But leading up to it, I’m focused on doing everything I can to help us win games.”
With every shot that moves Swain closer to a new record, of course, the team benefits too. Last weekend, the junior guard scored a combined 54 points, hitting five three-pointers on Friday night against Harvard and another five on Saturday versus Dartmouth. As of Thursday afternoon, the native of Brockton, Mass. ranks 13th among all NCAA Division I men’s basketball players with his 3.1 three-point field goals per game.
Petersen, who started 102 of the 103 games he played as an Eli, also holds the career record with 229 total three-pointers. To date, Swain has hit 176 in 82 appearances
Meanwhile, Princeton is holding opponents to 32.9 percent shooting from deep, a mark that ranks second (behind Yale’s league-leading 28.7 percent) in the Ivy League. On the inside, center Richmond Aririguzoh leads the Tigers, averaging a team-high 7.9 rebounds. Friday promises a showdown between him and Atkinson, whose 64.4 percent mark from the field trails Aririguzoh’s by just half a percentage point.
Sophomore guard Jaelin Llewellyn leads the frontcourt, averaging a team-high 14.5 points a game.
“I expect both teams to be locked in and ready to play since we’re both at the top of the league right now,” guard Matthue Cotton ’22 said. “Shutting down lanes for them to penetrate and then not letting their shooters get easy shots is going to be key for us… Llewellyn is a quick guard that is able to get into the lane and create opportunities [for] his teammates.”
The Tigers lost their first five contests of the season and finished 5–8 in nonconference play, but started the Ivy slate with four straight wins, including a sweep over Penn.
But Princeton fell to sixth-place Cornell last Saturday afternoon, losing 73–62.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve seen,” Jones said after Yale’s win over Dartmouth last Saturday. “I don’t know that we’ve had these kinds of upsets, a couple in a night, in a while. What it tells you is that the league is very competitive and you gotta go out every night and play your best, or you’re gonna lose.”
Penn, which tipped off its season with a win over Alabama, dropped two games with the Tigers before sweeping consecutive back-to-back weekends to vault itself into third place.
First-year guard Jordan Dingle plays a significant role in the backcourt with senior guard Devin Goodman, but Goodman’s classmate, guard Ryan Betley, will not face Yale this weekend, head coach Steve Donahue confirmed in The Daily Pennsylvanian this week. Betley — who suffered a left ankle injury in a 76–67 win over Columbia last Saturday — also missed most of the 2018–19 season with a ruptured patella tendon. He leads the Quakers with 40 three-pointers this season.
The Quakers’ senior forward AJ Brodeur ranks second in the Ancient Eight with 8.8 rebounds a game and leads the conference with 4.9 assists a contest.
“It’s gonna be really important for us to keep [Brodeur and Aririguzoh] off the glass, be physical, and work to get good defensive position before they have the ball in their hands,” forward Wyatt Yess ’21 said.
The status of forward Jordan Bruner ’20 remains uncertain. The Yale senior missed Saturday’s game against Dartmouth after appearing to land awkwardly on his left left leg in the second half of the Elis’ one-point loss versus Harvard on Friday night — sending Yess into the starting lineup for the first time in his career.
Historically, facing Princeton and Penn on the road has been the toughest back-to-back to sweep in the Ancient Eight. When Yale advanced to its first NCAA Tournament under Jones in 2016, it registered just one Ivy League loss, falling at Princeton on a Friday night in February before playing Penn on Saturday.
“We’ve traveled all over the country for nonconference games and even had back-to-back games in Florida, so all of us know what to expect,” Cotton said. “All of us are hyped for every league game, so traveling a few hundred miles throughout the weekend isn’t going to take any of that excitement out us.”
Acrobat Rong Niu, better known as Red Panda, has gained a committed following performing her halftime routine — unicycle, bowls and all — in basketball arenas across the nation. She is set to perform Friday at the Yale–Princeton game.
The Bulldogs last swept the Princeton–Penn road weekend in 2015.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org