Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Heading into the home stretch of the Ivy League season, the Yale men’s basketball team is riding a five-game win streak. 

Yale (16–6, 6–3 Ivy) hit the road last weekend, playing at Harvard University (12–11, 3–6 Ivy) and Dartmouth College (8–15, 4–5 Ivy). The Bulldogs seemed unfazed by the hostile environments, winning 68–57 and 72–53 respectively. 

From the opening tipoff in Cambridge, it was clear that the Bulldogs’ momentum had not stopped since last week’s second-half domination of Princeton. Forward Matt Knowling ‘24 made a layup on the opening possession and it was all Elis from that point on. The Bulldogs padded their early lead with a 17–5 run to close out the first half with a 42–25 lead. While the offense slowed down in the second half, the Yale defense held strong and kept the Crimson offense at bay to secure a comfortable win. 

“It was a great team win,” head coach James Jones said. “It is always difficult to win a league road game, but our guys stayed together and put in a tremendous effort defensively for 40 minutes.”

Knowling led all scorers with 18 points to go along with seven rebounds. Guard John Poulakidas 25, coming off of a strong performance against Princeton, added 13 points. 

“I’m feeling more confident and in a better rhythm out there,” said Knowling, who recorded his highest scoring total since Nov. 22 against Vermont and has been dealing with a bicep injury for the past two months. 

Despite leading by 19 with 16:25 remaining, the Blue and White slowly watched their lead crumble throughout the second half, and the pressure was on as Harvard’s Justice Ajogbor cut the deficit to just five with 2:25 remaining. 

But Yale remained composed in front of the Crimson crowd in the sold out Lavietes Pavilion, holding on thanks to clutch free throw shooting by guard Bez Mbeng 25 and forward Isaiah Kelly 23. Harvard did not score in the final two minutes. 

In addition to securing a key victory, the Bulldogs can also celebrate delivering what may have been the deathblow for their rivals’ playoff chances, as Harvard now teeters in seventh place and appears on the verge of missing Ivy Madness for the second year in a row. 

Against Dartmouth the following day, the Elis looked eager to avenge their loss to the Big Green earlier in the season, playing with defensive intensity and holding their opponent to a paltry 22-point first half. 

Forward Danny Wolf 26 and Poulakidas hit back-to-back threes in the final minute of the first half to give Yale an 11-point lead as they headed into the locker room. 

In the second half, the Elis stood firm, connecting on a couple of threes to widen the lead late in the game. Knowling led the scoring again with 14 points while Mbeng added 12. The Blue and White also kept Dartmouth big man Dame Adelekun — who scored 41 against Columbia a week prior — to just 13 points. 

“Our defense led the way tonight,” said Jones. “We were able to put some stops together to end the first half, which gave us momentum coming out of halftime. Outside of a five-minute stretch offensively in the first half, we played perfectly.”

Over the past three games, the Bulldogs have enjoyed a comfortable 17.3 point average margin of victory, thanks in large part to their stellar defensive effort. 

For the first time since the start of conference play, Yale once again leads the Ivy League in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating. 

“We have gotten back to playing strong team defense and being connected which I think has helped us get back on track,” Knowling said. “We are feeling confident, and as long as we are doing what it takes to be successful, we can play with anybody.” 

Next up for the Bulldogs is another chance for vengeance against the lowly Lions of Columbia (6–18, 1–8), who pulled off an upset win in their conference season-opener but have failed to come up with a win since then. 

Tipoff will be this Saturday at 7 p.m in the John J. Lee Amphitheater.    

BEN RAAB
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.