Yale seemed to finally have it figured out Friday night, climbing out of an early deficit to grab a three-point halftime lead that probably could have been bigger if not for some poor shot selection and turnovers toward the end. Most importantly, it held host Harvard to 0.84 points per possession, showing some of the defense that led them to the Ivy League title last season.
Alas, the second half was still to come, and streaking Harvard sent them back into the skid they came from, shooting 18-27 from the field (74.1 eFG%) and scoring 1.28 ppp en route to a fairly easy 77-64 win in front of a sellout crowd at Lavietes Pavilion.
Believe it or not, it was the first time in four years Harvard (17-7, 9-2) had beaten Yale (14-10, 6-5) at home, and this is the Bulldogs’ first four-game losing streak in Ivy League play since 2008. The last time they lost five straight (Yale is at Dartmouth Saturday) was 2000, James Jones’ first season in New Haven which saw the Bulldogs finish 7-20.
Sam Downey finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but fellow senior Anthony Dallier was a non-factor again, scoreless (0-6 FG) in 29 minutes. The freshman class didn’t have a good day, either, Jordan Bruner didn’t record a point and it appears the Ivy may have figured out Miye Oni a bit, as he was held to 6 points and 5 rebounds.
“We didn’t have the same amount of patience that we had in the first half. We didn’t handle the pressure,” Jones said. “They got out in transition and got some momentum that way. We had a couple plays that we didn’t stay together offensively and run our stuff and that hurt us, too. Turnovers just killed us (17). You can’t do that and expect to win.”
And the bigger problem is probably at the other end, where Bryce Aiken did whatever he pleased and Zena Edosomwan scored 15 points in just 19 minutes as the Crimson went 25-38 on two-point shots.
There is good news, of course. Unlike in every other Ivy League season, this one will finish with a conference tournament and Yale is still very much likely to be participating in it, needing just one more win in its final three games (and there are some scenarios that see them prevail even without it) to qualify.
“I thought we played better in the first half of this game than we had in the last three,” Jones said. “So let’s try to build on that. We have Dartmouth tomorrow and two more teams at home (Cornell and Columbia) and we’ve beaten all three already this season. So let’s hope we can go out and do the same thing this time.”
Of course, playing in their current form, Yale has no chance to win it, but Jones and company have three more games and two more weeks to figure it out and past experience tells us they’ll be playing better by the time they get to Philadelphia.
Whether that will be good enough? That’s another story.
What else did we learn Friday on a 70-degree February day in Cambridge?:
1) Harvard rolling
The Crimson are a tough road loss at Columbia and a frantic comeback from Princeton away from being undefeated themselves in Ivy League play. The stats bear out how well they’ve played as they passed Princeton as the most efficient offense in conference play (1.097 ppp). And while the Tigers are still the runaway leader in defensive efficiency, Harvard is up to second.
— Harvard Basketball (@HarvardBBall) February 25, 2017
Tommy Amaker had four players (Aiken, Siyani Chambers, Justin Bassey, and Seth Towns) play 30 minutes or more, with Edosomwan and Chris Lewis basically splitting the center position, so it seems like he’s got in idea at least of where to plug people in now. (Corey Johnson and Weisner Perez have seen big minutes down the stretch of games lately, too.) The early-season 0-4 start against Division I teams seems like long ago.
“As we’ve seen, Bryce can create a lot,” Amaker said. “He’s very crafty and dynamic with the ball and the shot-making ability separates him. He’s a hard guard. He can be a dynamic offensive player and we’ve seen that.”
— Harvard Basketball (@HarvardBBall) February 25, 2017
2) The three-point dilemma
Yale was second in Ivy League three-point shooting (last season to Princeton, in 2014-15 to Columbia), and seemed to improve its shooting with every game last year, including big ones in several contests as the season wore on.
They began this season surprising opponents with their outside shooting and it was a key cog in the Bulldogs’ hot Ivy start. But since then, they’ve gotten nothing from beyond the three-point arc. With a 3-14 performance Friday, Yale dropped to 30.2% in conference play, dead last. Not coincidentally, their offense has dropped to 5th, just over 1.00 ppp (1.002). Oni, who started so hot is down to 39.4% while Alex Copeland (who did have 20 points Friday) is shooting 30.2%.
The good news is that they can’t get much lower, can they?
“We had a couple of opportunities to knock down shots late in the first half that would have made it an 8-point lead, and they turned into layups the other way,” Jones said. “You have to step up and knock down some shots at some point. We were the No. 1 three-point shooting team in the league coming into conference play and now we’re the worst. We have to make some shots.”
3) Moving toward the tournament
Amaker was very candid after the game about the new car smell of preparing for the Ivy League Tournament. He holds out faint hope of catching Princeton (they meet at Jadwin Gym next Friday), but that would mean the Tigers would have to lose to someone else, which means Cornell or Dartmouth.
So, locked into the second seed and likely awaiting Yale or Penn, all he can do is control his team and make sure they continue the upward trajectory they’ve been on the last few weeks.
“It’s kind of uncharted territory for all of us,” Amaker said. “I was just hoping that our kids wouldn’t feel like preparing for this game differently knowing that we have a slot already in the conference tournament. I thought we played with great spirit and determination against a very good ballclub. We’re still trying to position ourselves for first place in our league until we can’t anymore.”