William McCormack, Contributing Photographer

After the Yale men’s basketball team wrapped up its Tuesday night game against Monmouth, a 69–60 loss, head coach James Jones and starting senior guards Azar Swain ’22 and Eze Dike ’22 all shared versions of the same view: the Bulldogs have not yet performed to their full potential through the season’s first 13 games.

Yale (6–7, 0–0 Ivy), down 41–25 at halftime, surged back with a strong second half, but Monmouth (9–2, 2–0 MAAC) maintained a slim lead over the final five minutes to record its ninth victory in 10 games. 

Tuesday’s loss came at the hands of a quality Monmouth squad which entered the game with the most true road wins in all of Division I men’s basketball, including victories over high-major schools Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. But Yale’s 6–7 record does not offer that level of nuance; the Elis are under .500 for the first time this season as they enter an eight-day break from competition for final exams.

“I try not to let the record be indicative of where we are,” Swain said while reflecting on Yale’s nonconference slate thus far. “We haven’t played our best basketball yet. I think a lot of guys feel that same way personally.”

Though he was not as ruthlessly efficient as he was while scoring 34 during Yale’s Sunday night loss to Iona at the Barclays Center, Swain had 17 points Tuesday, leading his side in the box score for the 10th time this season. 

11 of those points fell during the second half, including a long three-pointer that officially made Swain the school leader with 230 career three-point conversions. He tied Ed Petersen’s ’92 previous record of 229 on Sunday before officially breaking it Tuesday.

Guard Eze Dike ’22, who finished the night with 10 points, handles the ball in the first half. (William McCormack, Contributing Photographer)

The big Swain shot with 10:12 to play also trimmed Monmouth’s lead, which had grown to 20 early in the second half, to 10. It followed an 8–0 Yale run that fired up the home crowd. An and-one finish from forward Matt Knowling ’24 on the Bulldogs’ next possession had Jones pumping his arm near the scorer’s table.

Although the Bulldogs managed to cut the lead to 53–50 a few minutes later, the Hawks held on until the final buzzer. Monmouth forward Walker Miller, guard Shavar Reynolds and forward Nikkei Rutty combined to score 43 of the Hawks’ 69 points. Miller and Reynolds are graduate transfers from North Carolina and Seton Hall, respectively. Their presence helps explain why the Hawks are one of the most experienced teams in college basketball.

When finals end, Yale hosts Howard on Dec. 23 and visits Saint Mary’s College of California on Dec. 28 before launching into Ivy League play against Columbia on Jan. 2. Though he does not have to transition into exam mode like his players do, Jones had his own chance to reflect on Yale’s season thus far after the game.

“I think we’re better than what we’ve been able to produce thus far,” Jones said. “I talked to the team today about some what ifs. What if we had done things a little bit differently in the first half and you’re not down 16? Maybe you’re down by six and now you have a chance to maybe win by 10 points in the second half because you played so well. We got some work to do. I think that we have enough talent in our locker room to be successful, and it really comes down to what we’re going to do in our conference.”

This winter marks Yale’s first time entering fall-semester exams with a losing record since Dec. 2017, but some of Yale’s difficulties have arisen because of the quality of their opponents. Two of them are ranked in the latest AP Top 25 poll: No. 13 Auburn and No. 16 Seton Hall. The Bulldogs have also avoided “bad” losses. According to the NCAA’s NET ranking, Yale has only lost one Quadrant 4 game this season at home to Stony Brook, the preseason favorite in the America East. The rankings system defines Quadrant 4 games as home contests against opponents ranked lower than 161 in the NET, neutral-site matches with teams ranked below 201 or away games vs. squads ranked 241 or below.

Following its win, Monmouth, which has climbed over 100 spots in the 2022 Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings (KenPom) since its season opener, ranked 46 out of more than 350 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams in the NET. Yale opened the evening struggling to shoot against the surging Hawks. The Bulldogs were three-of-15 from three-point range and 33 percent from the field in the first.

Guard Azar Swain ’22 attempts a three-point shot in the first half. (William McCormack, Contributing Photographer)

The Elis have made slower first-half performances a trend this season, especially at home, before finding their flow in the second. Dike, who often sets the team into motion or other plays as the team’s point guard, said the team is still trying to find its groove offensively, especially as the offense integrates a few players who have seen major increases in playing time since the pandemic began and last winter’s season was canceled. 

“We’re trying to find our rhythm offensively,” Dike said. “We’re not playing as good as the sum of our parts right now. Once we really get into that rhythm, we really start knowing each other offensively and defensively, and we really start to succeed.”

On the defensive end Tuesday, Jones transitioned the Bulldogs into a two-three zone just over nine minutes into the game and continued with it for a significant portion of the first half. Keeping a careful eye on the Hawks’ three-point threat, Elis on the perimeter kept pointing to Monmouth guard and leading scorer George Papas, who entered the night 15th in the country in three-point field goal attempts.

The scheme was largely effective — Monmouth shot 13 of 28 from the field and four-for-12 from beyond the arc in the first half, while Papas finished the night three-of-13 from deep. Yale, back to playing man-to-man, then delivered one of its best defensive halves of the season after halftime, limiting Monmouth to 20 percent shooting from the field. The Hawks, however, grabbed 14 offensive rebounds Tuesday night and outrebounded the Bulldogs 43–27, scoring second-chance points that nullified some of Yale’s defensive work on each possession.

Yale entered the game without injured, 6-foot-8 forwards Jack Molloy ’25 and EJ Jarvis ’23, who are averaging a combined 21.2 minutes a game this season in the post.

Injured forward Jack Molloy ’25 did not dress in his game uniform Tuesday night. (William McCormack, Contributing Photographer)

“We’re down two forwards tonight, which makes a difference in a game when you get outrebounded by [16] and not get any offensive rebounds for the most part,” Jones said. “But don’t make excuses. It’s next man up, and that’s always been our mentality in terms of who we are and who our program is, and we just didn’t do a great job with it tonight.”

Jones said he expects Jarvis to return “at some point soon,” while Molloy will be back after recovering from an ankle injury he sustained Sunday vs. Iona.

Monmouth scored 29 points at the free throw line Tuesday night, the most a Yale opponent has converted at the charity stripe since Siena fell to the Bulldogs in triple overtime in Nov. 2019.

WILLIAM MCCORMACK
William McCormack covers Yale men's basketball. He previously served as a Sports and Digital Editor for the Yale Daily News and also reported on the athletic administration as a staff reporter. Originally from Boston, he is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.