MEN’S BASKETBALL: With a career night from its captain, Yale beats Penn 81–72, officially clinches Ivy Madness berth
Yale guard and captain Jalen Gabbidon ’22 scored a career-high 32 points as Yale defeated Penn Friday night in New Haven. The win sets up another key showdown with now second-place Princeton on Saturday.
Tim Tai, Staff Photographer
In recent years, the Yale men’s basketball team has defeated Penn in New Haven with some “miracle wins,” head coach James Jones said Friday night.
A Paul Atkinson ’21 layup at the buzzer gave the Bulldogs a one-point win over the Quakers when they visited in 2018. Two years ago against Penn, it was “the Jalen Gabbidon show,” as Jones called it, with the Yale guard frantically forcing turnovers to propel a Blue and White comeback — 13 straight points in the last 1:38 — for a three-point victory.
On Friday night, Gabbidon, now the team’s captain and a senior in the class of 2022 after taking a gap year, willed first-place Yale (15–9, 9–1 Ivy) to another win over the Quakers (11–13, 8–3). His career-high 32 points led Yale to an 81–72 win that was less a miracle than a spectacle. In a tightly contested game that included 10 lead changes and four ties, Yale remained a couple baskets ahead for much of the second half, pulling ahead with five straight points from Gabbidon with less than two minutes to play.
Yale fans, including members of the general public who returned to John J. Lee Amphitheater for the first men’s basketball they could spectate since mid-December, left pleased: the win officially scures the Elis a berth in Ivy Madness, the conference’s postseason tournament. Penn entered the game in second place and would have ascended to first if it had defeated Yale.
“I thought it was a really great college basketball game,” Jones said after the win. “If you came and paid to watch a game and wanted to be entertained, I certainly thought that game was entertaining on a lot of different levels. I thought we played extremely well and extremely hard on both ends of the floor.”
Forward EJ Jarvis ’23, making his second consecutive start this season and the third of his Yale career, added a double-double for Yale with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Azar Swain ’22 added 15 points for the Bulldogs, while sophomore guard Clark Slajchert led the Quakers in scoring with 18 off the bench.
Gabbidon, guard Bez Mbeng ’25 and the rest of the Yale defense effectively contained Penn guard Jordan Dingle, who was averaging 20.1 points a game as the Ivy League’s leading scorer heading into New Haven. Dingle scored 31 points when Penn hosted Yale last month, handing the Bulldogs their only Ivy League loss, and was coming off a 33-point performance against Harvard last weekend. But at Yale, he shot four-of-19 from the field and one-of-10 from three-point range, finishing the night with 10 points, one above his season low. Penn senior Jelani Williams, who had started all 23 games for the Quakers, did not play Friday, his left wrist encased by a pink cast.
“He hurt us last time we played,” Jones said of Dingle. “It was important for us to come up and do a good job against him. We have two really super on-ball defenders in Jalen and Bez … It was really good that those guys were locked in. But they got a lot of help. Every time [Dingle] came off a screen, I have visions of EJ Jarvis just being active and moving and making it difficult for him to get a shot.”
When asked what his reaction would have been Friday morning if he learned Gabbidon would finish with 32 and Dingle with just 10, Jones let out a loud, “Let’s gooo!” in the Lee Amphitheater’s media room. Jones thought Yale did a good job forcing Dingle to take difficult shots.
Jarvis scored Yale’s first four points of the game, turning around to drop two in the post before receiving a pass from Gabbidon directly under the basket on the Bulldogs’ next possession. Forward Isaiah Kelly ’23, who missed last Saturday’s win at Columbia, returned to the court Friday night wearing a surgical mask and played 14 minutes off the bench.
“Coach said we’d start off the game running some inside-out looks,” Jarvis said. “Teammates got [me] the ball inside, and I’m looking to score and then looking to kick out. I thought I could take Penn’s big to the rim, so I did that a couple times. And then as they started sort of coming down and realizing that we were doing inside-out … I got Matt Cotton [‘23], Azar, August [Mahoney ’24] all waiting to spot up for three.”
Jarvis went on to make four of his five field-goal attempts in the opening half, while Gabbidon scored a team-high 12 points in the first. He twisted his arms and contorted his body to convert several nifty layups at the rim — 10 of his first 12 points came near the basket.
With 2:08 to play in the half, Gabbidon, cutting to the paint, shifted his weight as he caught a pass from Jarvis and spun to his left side for a layup that tied the score at 28.
“I feel like offensively I have a lot of tools, and sometimes I’m focused on the defensive end of the ball,” Gabbidon, the Ivy League’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 said. “The way Penn was playing us today defensively, they gave me a lot of opportunities to drive and make plays off the bounce … They play great defense on the shooters and because we don’t have those kickout opportunities all the time, it opens up those lanes for me to get and create.”
Nearly all of Yale’s scoring came around the basket in the first. The Bulldogs started the game 0-for-five from three-point range, until Swain sank an and-one three-pointer from a few feet beyond the top of the key with a minute to go in the half. A steal and fast-break layup from point guard Mbeng put Yale up six in the final minute of the break, its biggest lead thus far. The Elis entered the locker room up 36–32 at the break.
Yale’s wooden student bleachers were nearly full by the end of the first half, but the undergraduate crowd, though not as rabid as it was during the Yale-Harvard game earlier this month, warmed up with the Elis’ three-point shooting percentage in the second half. The Yale Precision Marching Band made its first appearance at a men’s basketball game this season, playing from the wide wooden chairs of Lee Amphitheater section 210 as opposed to its typical spot in the baseline bleachers. A scout for the Orlando Magic was also in attendance.
For Yale, a basket-adjacent attack in the first spread outwards as its three-pointers started to fall in the second half, when the Bulldogs shot five-of-nine from deep. Nine consecutive points from beyond the arc in the middle of the half put the Elis up 60–55 with 10:02 to play: two triples from Gabbidon sandwiched a deep shot from Swain, who nonchalantly walked into a three-point attempt as Yale moved back on offense following a Slajchert missed jumper.
“It makes our offense so much more dynamic when he’s ready to catch and shoot,” Jones said of Gabbidon, who hit three of his four three-point attempts in the half. Gabbidon had led Yale in scoring three games this season before Friday, when he surpassed his previous career best of 22 points vs. Lehigh last December by double digits. Gabbidon’s 12 made field goals and 21 field-goal attempts also represented new career highs.
With 4:50 to play, Yale took a 69–62 lead with a two-handed slam from Jarvis, but Slajchert, who missed just one three-point attempt all night, responded with two straight triples to bring Penn within one. Another three from guard Jonah Charles gave Penn a 71–70 lead with three minutes to play.
The Bulldogs responded with an 11–1 run to end the game that began with a two-handed slam from Kelly, continued with another three from Gabbidon and ended with a win to keep Yale atop the Ancient Eight.
“For me personally, I’m a senior, and I took a whole year off in coming back,” Gabbidon said. “I know that this is our three-peat run here. This game means a lot, this weekend means a lot for that. Obviously it was on my mind.”
Another test awaits the Elis this weekend. Princeton (18–5, 8–2), which beat Brown (12–14, 4–7) Friday night, now sits in second place and faces Yale Saturday at 7 p.m.
Update, Feb. 19: This story has been updated to include a full recap of Friday night’s game.