Yale Athletics

The Yale men’s basketball team (4–0, 0–0 Ivy) made the 5,000-mile trip to Hawaii this week. 

The trip was not a vacation. The Bulldogs took care of business at the Outrigger Rainbow Classic, bringing home a trophy after emerging victorious from all three games to remain undefeated for the season.

Head coach James Jones described his takeaways from the tournament as “all positive.”

“We were tested in a number of ways and came away unblemished,” Jones told the News. “Our defense was very good, and we maintained a great team focus.”

They began the trip with a convincing 74–60 win against Eastern Washington (1–3, 0–0 Sky). In their second game, they trounced Mississippi Valley State (0–4, 0–0 SWAC) 80–51. And in the championship game, the Blue and White topped Hawaii (2–1, 0–0 West) 62–59 in an overtime thriller. 

Forward Matt Knowling ’24 was named the tournament MVP, building on his 20-point opening night with a series of strong performances, averaging 21.3 points per game on 58.7 percent shooting for the tournament. 

Knowling, who averaged seven ppg last season, credited teammates for his strong performances as the team’s primary scoring option. 

“I give my teammates a majority of the credit,” he said. “They did a great job of finding me when I was open and trusting me to make the right play. So this role has come naturally thanks to the support and trust I have from my teammates and coaches.”

In their opening matchup against Eastern Washington, the Elis ended the first half down 33–32, but came firing back in the second, scoring 19 unanswered points to blow the game open 57–38 with 10 minutes remaining. 

Knowling finished with 26 points, hitting 10 of his 15 shots from the field, while guard John Poulakidas ’25 added 13 points of his own. 

Against Mississippi Valley State, the Bulldogs got out to a hot start from the field, powered by guard August Mahoney’s ’24 three first half three-pointers to give the Blue and White a 35–21 heading into the locker room. Yale cruised through the second half to finish the game 80–51, securing a berth in the championship game. Knowling contributed 20 points while forward Yussif Basa-Ama ’24 had 12 off the bench. 

The Elis came into their final matchup against Hawaii as four-point underdogs, their first time not being the favored entering a game this year. 

Both teams struggled early, with a completely scoreless first four minutes of play. At the half, Yale held a 17–16 lead in the low-scoring affair, with both teams combining for 28 percent shooting from the field and just one made three-pointer on 14 attempts. 

“We were getting good shots for the most part, and we needed to have confidence that they would fall in the second half,” Jones said regarding the slow start. 

The scoring picked up after the break, but neither team could pull away. Samuta Avea hit a three to put Hawaii up 38-33 with 10:42 left, but the Bulldogs tightened up on defense and forced the Rainbow Warriors into missing their next 10 shots, allowing the Bulldogs to climb back into the game. A layup by forward EJ Jarvis ’23 put Yale back up 39–38 with 6:44 to go. 

As the final minute of regulation was winding down, the Rainbow Warriors seemed to be in control. Guard Bez Mbeng ’25 — one of the team’s best defenders — fouled out with 32 seconds left, and Noel Coleman then hit two free throws to give Hawaii a 51-49 lead. Mahoney answered back for the Bulldogs, however, drawing a foul and hitting two free throws of his own to tie the game with 18 seconds left. 

Hawaii had the chance to win it on their last possession, but Jarvis switched off his man to come up with a game-saving block on Coleman’s drive to the basket with 3 seconds left on the clock, sending the game to overtime. 

“I saw him drive baseline and knew there were only a few seconds left on the clock,” Jarvis said.  “He tried to maneuver around me, but I was thankful I got a finger on it. Once we got the game to OT, I knew we would win.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The game came down to the final minute once again in overtime, but the Elis broke through as guard Yassine Gharram ’25, filling the role of the fouled-out Mbeng, got a long defensive rebound and threw an outlet pass to forward Isaiah Kelly ’23, who threw down a slam dunk to gain a decisive 58–56 lead with 54 seconds remaining. 

After another key defensive stop for Yale, Mahoney hit four more clutch free throws in the final seconds to seal a 62–59 victory. 

The win marked Yale’s second time winning the Rainbow Classic title, also doing so in 1969 after beating LSU in the final game. But the successful tournament also came with a cost for the student athletes, who took several days off from school in order to make the 14 hour-long trip from New Haven to Hawaii. 

“With long trips like these, it is very tough to balance school and sports,” Jarvis said. “We had to email teachers in advance to coordinate how to handle missing sections, classes and even deadlines. Being an Ivy League student-athlete is not easy at all, but as a senior, I have developed a routine for when we travel — which includes doing work on the buses and planes.” 

During the Ivy League’s media day, Jones expressed reservations about going to Hawaii, saying, “The only reason we’re going to Hawaii is because we had three teams at home drop us.” 

Jones also mentioned that ever since the Bulldogs’ upset victory over UConn in 2014, he has been unable to schedule a single game with another Connecticut team. 

“I think that most teams try to schedule teams that they feel that they have a good chance at beating. There are enough teams to play without taking a chance at playing Yale,” Jones said. 

Despite playing in the Ivy League, generally considered a relatively weak conference across Division I basketball, the Bulldogs have amassed a number of upsets over top-tier teams in recent years, including wins against Baylor University, University of California and University of Miami, each of whom play in “power five” conferences.

“The thing that makes student-athletes so special is that we perform at the highest levels in the classroom and in our sport,” added Jarvis. 

Yale’s toughest test this season will come against the University of Kentucky on Dec. 10, a team ranked No. 4 in the nation. 

The Blue and White, back from Hawaii, will return to the John J. Lee Amphitheater on Sunday, November 20th for a matchup against John Jay College.

BEN RAAB