The dominant storyline for the Yale men’s basketball team this season is bad luck. Injuries have shifted the Elis’ prospects from being one of the favorites to win the Ivy League to battling for the fourth and final spot in the end-of-season tournament.
Even though Harvard currently stands atop the conference with a 4–0 record it too was dealt a major setback when Bryce Aiken went down with a knee injury this season. It therefore added insult to injury when Aiken made his return on Friday night on the Bulldogs’ home court.
But Aiken’s return was anticlimactic. The First Team All-Ivy guard had played four minutes against Dartmouth on Jan. 6, but he then missed the Crimson’s next two games. He entered the Yale game with 14:52 on the clock in the first half, but his contributions were minor: In 13 minutes, he tallied three points on 1–5 shooting, two assists and two turnovers.
“We were just trying to see if we could find minutes for him to kind of get back into any kind of game shape, game rhythm,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said after the game. “You can see he’s out of rhythm. That happens when you’ve been out as long as he’s been. … It didn’t go as well as we wanted, but we were able to get the win, and hopefully we can find more minutes for him and get him into a better rhythm tomorrow.”
Amaker was prescient, for on Saturday night Aiken dropped 18 points in 20 minutes of action off the bench against Brown. The sophomore shot 3–10, but he made 11 of 12 free-throw attempts to help the Crimson triumph in an uncharacteristically high-scoring game, 88–77. In Harvard’s previous seven games, the team’s best offensive production was just 62 points.
Aiken’s return could spell trouble for Ivy League rivals. Harvard is the best defensive team in the league, giving up just 66 points per game, and narrowly defeated Yale without a significant contribution from him.
The Bulldogs hope that their own injured star, guard Makai Mason ’18, will be back in the lineup for the rematch on Feb. 17. Mason has faced multiple setbacks in his recovery from a foot injury; he last played competitively in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Head coach James Jones said at the start of the season that he expected Mason to play by the time the Ancient Eight campaign began, but he has not provided any further timetable on the point guard’s return.
Rookie guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 has also missed the year to date due to a foot injury, and forward Jordan Bruner ’20 is out for the season with a torn meniscus.