ALBANY, N.Y. – From his seat on the Yale bench, Justin Sears was constantly looking up the SEFCU Arena overhead scoreboard Sunday afternoon. Maybe he didn’t believe what he saw. Maybe he thought if he stared at long enough it would change. Or perhaps he just couldn’t watch what was actually happening on the court.
What was abundantly clear Sunday afternoon was that Yale is lost without him. Sears sat out with an ear and sinus infection, and Yale – who led SMU by eight at the half and hung with Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium last week – was absolutely dismantled by the reigning America East champs, 88-54.
It marks the most points Yale (3-3) has allowed in regulation since New Year’s Eve 2011 at Florida, and times when the Bulldog defense (ranked 55th in defensive efficiency last season) gave up 1.29 points per possession the last couple of seasons have been few and far between (if there are any).
Sears had been ill for a few days and did not participate in the morning shootaround, but was expected to play up until the time Yale came out to warm-up an hour before the game, Sears still didn’t feel right, and it was decided that – especially in a non-conference game – it would probably be best to err on the side of caution and not play him.
And so the predictable debate took place afterward: Could even the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year be worth 35 points? Obviously, Albany coach Will Brown is going to answer in the negative, pointing out quickly that post player Greig Stire – who had started all six Albany games this season before Sunday – didn’t play, either. Albany held Yale’s starting guards (Makai Mason and Jack Montague) to just 11 points on 4-15 shooting, 1-8 from behind the three-point arc.
“Mason was the best guard on the floor at SMU, top 25 team and they have Nic Moore, who’s outstanding,” Brown said. “Duke couldn’t guard Mason in the first half, they went and played 1-3-1 the whole second half. A guard has to get Sears the ball. Us not having Stire, he’s obviously not Sears, but he’s physical and defends for us, I was worried. Huge key for us was to make Mason play in a crowd, and I said whomever won the Singletary vs. Mason battle was going to win the game.”
James Jones wasn’t going to make excuses for his team, but did point out that not even having time to plan for life without Sears was difficult. Yale had not used its bench too much in the early season, and senior Khaliq Ghani also didn’t play, meaning Jones was very deep in his rotation to start (junior Sam Downey got his first career start in place of Sears).
“Sometimes you have guys rise up to the occasion and play better and harder,” Jones said. “We had the reverse occur today.”
What else did we learn from Albany Sunday afternoon?
- Yes, Sears was out but Yale’s guards got horribly outplayed
Jones alluded to Mason being a bit banged up in the postgame as well, but whatever the reason, Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders dominated the proceedings in just about every fashion, including combining to shoot 6-10 from behind the three-point arc. Although it didn’t get much publicity, both were pretty good shooters last season (Singletary 40.1% and Sanders 36.8% from deep), and being consistent in that area will make them very difficult to stop in America East.
“I definitely take pride in my shooting,” Singletary said. “It’s just time in the gym on my own and after practice. Sometimes I try to get here early and my teammates call me and ask me to shoot around in the gym. We all just want to get better.”
It was more than the shooting, too. Singletary and Sanders were quicker and more physical than Yale’s backcourt, and that has to be a little worrying for the Bulldogs going forward. Albany was able to win so easily without Peter Hooley (now just 3-31 from three on the season) scoring; Hooley had just two points, although he finished with eight rebounds and eight assists against just one turnover and was the primary person on Montague and got four steals as well.
2) What to do with Travis Charles?
Maybe part of it was Yale’s malaise, but junior JUCO transfer Travis Charles, who had scored just one point in 13 minutes in Albany’s last two games, came off the bench and dominated Yale in the paint, scoring 16 points on 7-8 shooting in 25 minutes. Charles took full advantage of Stire being out, and – even without Sears – was impressive enough that he’ll probably have to earn some minutes somewhere.
“I’ve always been a person to be ready no matter what,” Charles, a Brooklyn native, said. “Coach always says, “Next up’, and I know I always have to be ready. It’s that way everywhere in basketball, really. It’s just a matter of staying mentally focused and staying ready, staying sharp at all times so when Coach calls my number I’ll be there.”
3) It’s still only one game going forward
James Jones pointed out that against his brother Joe and Boston University a couple of weeks ago, Albany shot 1-13 from behind the arc and the Terriers were able to beat the Great Danes by a point in Boston.
Even Will Brown acknowledged, with a four-game road trip coming up, that today’s performance won’t necessarily translate into wins against Quinnipiac, Holy Cross, Marist, and Siena. Unlike in the MAAC, both these teams still have a long wait until conference play and a lot of things can happen between now and then. So Albany (4-3) should leave very confident and is clearly an America East contender once again, but a road test at Quinnipiac awaits Tuesday.
“Obviously when you make shots, you’re a much better basketball team,” Brown said. “And when you make shots, your defense and rebounding tend to be pretty good with it. What I’m trying to get us to do is to be able to rely on our defense and rebounding every single night. We’ve proven that we can play well at home, now we need to bottle some of this up and take it with us on the road.”
It’s a bit more troubling for Yale because anyone other than its starters can’t have a whole lot of confidence right now. The freshman class has played sparingly, but Blake Reynolds (25 minutes and eight rebounds), Eric Anderson, Trey Phills, and Matt Greene (another Brooklyn native) – who made his first appearance all season – all played minutes before the game got out of hand, and none of them (except for possibly Anderson) really impressed. Downey didn’t make a field goal and was limited to 18 minutes because of foul trouble.
Which doesn’t begin to discuss Montague’s troubles at both ends of the floor and a 12-24 performance at the free throw line, and oh, that defense that allowed 1.46 ppp in the first half.
However, James Jones would like you to take a step back and remember that Yale lost to Albany at home last season and suffered a similar pummeling (albeit at Florida) at almost exactly this very moment a year ago and still shared the Ivy title (and probably should have won it). They’ll try to rebound against Bryant and Vermont this week and still have until Jan. 16 to get things straight before Ivy play opens.
“Going forward, I feel really good about this team,” Jones said. “I like our starting group and one of my issues is making sure we have guys that can come off the bench and contribute. We’ve gotten some punch from some guys off the bench this season, but it didn’t happen today. That’s what we’ll work toward in the next nine games before we open Ivy League play.”