Courtesy of James Minzesheimer

When it drove to upstate New York late last week, the Yale men’s basketball team arrived in Ithaca with 16 consecutive wins over Cornell. The Big Red, fighting for the No. 4 seed in the Ivy League’s postseason tournament, ended that streak Saturday afternoon.

Yale (16–11, 10–3 Ivy) fell 71–65 to the Big Red (14–10, 6–7), whose liberal use of substitutions, up-tempo play and defensive pressure helped it secure a crucial win. Cornell forced 20 Yale turnovers and recorded 15 steals, largely preventing the Bulldogs from finding the fluid offense that helped them score a season-high 96 points when the teams met six weeks ago in New Haven — a 27 point win for Yale.

“The careless turnovers we had and then not handling pressure well doomed us,” Yale head coach James Jones said in a postgame phone interview. “I just think that we were not connected the way you need to be in a game like this on the road.”

Yale’s last lead of the game dissolved late in the first half. While the Bulldogs remained within striking distance for the rest of the afternoon, extending the final few minutes with a full-court press that cut into the deficit, Cornell remained ahead until the buzzer sounded.

Yale guard and captain Jalen Gabbidon ’22 led the Elis in scoring with 15 points. Cornell, which consistently rotated through 11 players, got 41 points from its bench and 11 apiece from forwards Jordan Jones and Guy Ragland Jr. 

A home-and-home series between Princeton (21–5, 11–2) and Harvard (13–12, 5–8) sandwiched the Yale-Cornell game Saturday, with implications for both the Big Red and the Bulldogs. Princeton swept the Crimson behind a victory in New Jersey Friday night and a one-point win on Sunday afternoon, dropping the Bulldogs into second place.

Yale plays its final regular-season game Saturday when it hosts Brown (13–15, 5–8). The Elis need a win over the Bears and a Princeton loss to Penn next weekend in order to share the regular-season championship with the Tigers. Princeton’s sweep also officially locked Cornell into the Ivy Madness field alongside the Tigers, Yale and Penn (12–14, 9–4). Harvard, which is hosting the tournament in two weeks, will miss Ivy Madness for the first time since its inception in 2017. Yale has gone 1–1 against all three of Cornell, Penn and Princeton this year.

“Any way you slice it, Yale will have to beat two teams it’s split with this season, showing that no outcome will come as a huge surprise,” Luke Benz ’19, a former president of the Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group and biostatistics doctorate student who analyzes Ivy League men’s basketball tournament and game odds, said of Ivy Madness. 

Yale guard Bez Mbeng ’25, who ended up fouling out Saturday, dribbles the ball. (Courtesy of James Minzesheimer)

At Newman Arena Saturday, Cornell recognized a win could set them up to secure a postseason appearance. The Big Red hit three early 3-pointers to build a 14–9 lead six minutes into the game.

“They just came out, [and] they were firing,” forward Matt Knowling ’24 said. “They really needed to win. We probably could have played better and more focused.”

Yale’s defense, which is limiting opponents to the lowest field-goal and 3-point shooting percentages in the Ivy League, remained solid Saturday afternoon. Cornell, which attempted more than half of its shots from beyond the three-point line, went 41.3 percent from the field and just 24.2 percent from deep. At the under-four media timeout in the second half, it had made only one of its last 16 3-point attempts.

Turnovers, many due to errant passes, prevented the Bulldogs from capitalizing on those stops. The Bulldogs’ 20 turnovers matched their highest number against an Ivy League opponent this season, as Cornell recorded 10 steals in the first half and ended the game with a season-high 15.

Forward EJ Jarvis ’23, guard Eze Dike ’22 and forward Luke Kolaja ’25 all missed Saturday’s game with a non-COVID illness, according to Tim Bennett, assistant director for strategic communications. Jones said he suspected all three to be back and available next weekend, but does not know their status for sure. In Jarvis’s absence, forward Yussif Basa-Ama ’24 settled into the game as the first post player off the bench. With eight rebounds, all of which came in the first half, Basa-Ama passed his rebounding career-high before the break.

Yale guard Bez Mbeng ’25 attempts a free throw at Newman Area Saturday. (Courtesy of James Minzesheimer)

Late in the first half, a turnaround fadeaway from guard Azar Swain ’22 bounced on the rim before dropping in, extending Yale’s lead to 27–21, its largest of the game. But two consecutive 3-pointers and a layup, all from Ragland Jr., helped the Big Red to a four-point lead at the half, 33–29. 

Cornell remained a possession or two ahead until the end of the second half, when a dunk from forward Marcus Filien put the Big Red up 58–51 with 4:24 to play. Cornell guard Chris Manon then snuck behind Swain to steal Yale’s inbounds pass, taking two extra steps towards the rim for an open layup that pushed Cornell’s lead to nine. With three minutes to go, the Elis nearly made a stop that would have given them a chance to make it a one-possession game again, but with the shot clock about to expire and Gabbidon having just poked the ball away from a Cornell ball-handler, Big Red guard Greg Dolan sank a deep three-pointer to put Cornell up 63–55.

The last few minutes of the contest dragged on, as Yale fouled Cornell to send the Big Red to the free-throw line for one-and-ones. The Bulldogs then deployed a full-court press, fouling and racing to the other end for quick layups in a routine that successfully reduced the Cornell lead from 11 with 1:48 to play down to four with 10 seconds left. The Big Red, however, were solid from the free-throw line, making eight of their 11 attempts in the second half and holding on for the win.

Swain finished with 13 points to join Gabbidon in double-figure scoring for Yale. 

William McCormack covered Yale men's basketball from 2018 to 2022. He served as Sports Editor and Digital Editor for the Managing Board of 2022 and also reported on the athletic administration as a staff reporter. Originally from Boston, he was in Timothy Dwight College.