Ben Raab, Contributing Photographer

LEXINGTON — On Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs traveled to Lexington, Kentucky to face off against the highest-ranked opponent on their schedule in a more competitive game than many expected.

Yale (8–3, 0–0 Ivy) — playing in front of a crowd of over 20,000 at Rupp Arena — put in a commendable performance against No. 16 the University of Kentucky (7–2, 0–0 SEC).

“I thought our team played hard, I thought they played well,” head coach James Jones said after the game. “I thought we had a couple of lapses that hurt us in a game that had a couple of two or three minute stretches where they got out and controlled and we let things get away from us in the first half.”

The Bulldogs, coming in as 17-point underdogs, seemed to be in for an even tougher matchup than expected with the announcement that leading scorer Matt Knowling ’24 would sit out due to injury.

Forwards Jack Molloy ’25 and EJ Jarvis ’23 picked up the slack, pouring in 14 and 12 points while shooting 5-9 and 6-12 respectively. 

Asked about how he adjusted the gameplan without Knowling in the fold, Jones said, “It didn’t change at all. We are who we are. The next guy is going to come in and play. Jack Molloy got an opportunity to play more. He’s a different kind of player than Matt Knowling is. He takes different kinds of shots, but it’s the same kind of plan. We went out and did what we did. Most of our gameplan is based on what we do defensively.

The defensive gameplan was simple for the Bulldogs: limit reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe. While their double- and triple-teams held him in check in the first half, Tshiebwe dominated the undersized Elis in the second half en route to a 28-point, 12-rebound performance, proving why he is the one of the most unstoppable forces in the nation. 

“When I got it, they couldn’t do nothing,” Tshiebwe said after the game. “He was crying. ‘You are so big, man, how did you get so big. I can’t guard you.’ Coach was saying, ‘Stop him’ and he said ‘I can’t stop him, man, he’s so big.’”

The bright lights of Rupp Arena seemed to unsettle the Blue and White in the opening minutes, as guard Cason Wallace, a projected lottery pick in the 2023 NBA draft, made back-to-back threes in the opening minutes to give the Wildcats a 25–13 lead by the 10:46 mark. 

But the Bulldogs, as part of a continuous pattern this season, roared back as they began to settle in, finishing the first half down 33–27. Guard August Mahoney ’24 hit a three to open the first half, and then guard John Poulakidas ’25 followed up with a three of his own to tie the score at 33–33, forcing coach John Calipari to burn a timeout.

Coming out of the break, a Poulakidas layup off of a backdoor cut gave Yale their first and only lead of the game with 17:37 remaining in the second half. 

It was the Tshiebwe show from that point on, as the 6’9”, 260-pound All-American came alive and scored 22 points in the next 15 minutes of play.

“There’s a reason he played so many minutes,” Jarvis said on his matchup with Tshiebwe “I mean, it’s tough, he’s possibly one of the best players in the nation and you don’t go into Rupp without expecting a battle. Overall I thought the team and I did the best job we could, we tried to double him when he caught the ball, but he just got hot and stayed hot.”

As Tshiebwe began to heat up, the Wildcats also clamped down on the defensive end. The Bulldogs’ offense, which was humming for the first 25 minutes of the game, seemed to grind to a halt as the Kentucky student section grew increasingly rowdy.

The Blue and White settled for some off-balance shots and had some uncharacteristically sloppy turnovers down the stretch, including two shot-clock violations. 

“You know, the crowd got loud a couple of times,” Jones said. “That’s what they call home court advantage. That’s gonna happen anywhere whether it’s a 20,000 seat arena or the bandbox we play in at home. Playing in a place like this is going to give our guys some experience going forward which should help us.”

With the crowd rocking and Tshiebwe rolling, the Wildcats pulled away in the last 10 minutes, never letting the Bulldogs cut the deficit to less than seven points, and eventually stretching the margin to double digits.

Molloy’s 14 points marked a new career high, while guard Bez Mbeng ’25 matched his season high in rebounds with eight.

Kentucky coach John Calipari had high praise for the Bulldogs after the game. 

“They’re an NCAA tournament team,” he said. “That is a good team. It’s another hard game to play. You’ve gotta grind it out… We’re the first team this year to outrebound them. By one. But we still did. That’s one of their things that they do a great job of.”

Yale will look to avoid a letdown as they return home to play against Fairfield on Monday in front of a crowd that will likely be more than twenty times smaller.

Ben Raab covers faculty and academics at Yale and writes about the Yale men's basketball team. Originally from New York City, Ben is a sophomore in Pierson college pursuing a double major in history and political science.
Andrew Cramer is a former sports editor, women's basketball beat reporter, and WKND personal columnist at the YDN. He still writes for the WKND and Sports sections. He is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College and is majoring in Ethics, Politics & Economics.