As Leland King got hot and Cedric Kuakumensah found room to get a layup forcing James Jones to call a time out, the memories started to flood back into the veteran Yale basketball team, and they weren’t good ones.
Glimpses of a lost Saturday afternoon in January of 2014 in Providence when Brown handled a lackluster Yale squad easily, 73-56, a defeat that proved costly while trying to chase Harvard down a couple of months later.
A year later, and a year older and wiser apparently, Yale came out of that time out midway through the first half down 20-16, but outscored the Bears 31-11 the rest of the half and cruised to an 80-62 road win at the Pizzitola Center to open their Ivy League campaign.
“I was telling my teammates on the bench at the end that they can’t really comprehend how good this win feels,“ Yale senior Javier Duren said. “My past two years when we came here to play Brown, we laid eggs and it’s been terrible. We played basketball like we know how to play and now we just have to be consistent.”
In that 10-minute spurt to close the first half, Yale (12-6, 1-0) showed all the ingredients of a potential Ivy League champion. Brown, even with Kuakumensah in there, dominated on the boards, led by Justin Sears, but with big assists from Armani Cotton and Duren (who would finish the contest with his first career double-double). On the offensive end, Duren, Cotton, Sears, Jack Montague, Matt Townsend, and Greg Kelley all scored in the run, which was finished by a Sears tip-in at the buzzer to put Yale up 47-31. The Bulldogs – who were just 228th in offensive efficiency (and sixth in the Ivy) last season – scored at a 1.37 points per possession clip in the first half and is now up to 111th this season with Saturday’s performance.
“Even forgetting about the win, it was good just to play really well,” Yale coach James Jones said. “Justin Sears’ free throw shooting (7-16) aside, it was almost a perfect game for us in a lot of ways. We didn’t shoot the ball at a great percentage (43.1%), but our defense was very good and we outrebounded a very good rebounding team. We held them to shoot a very low percentage, too (37.7%, 34.8% in the final 30 minutes of the game).”
Perhaps the most important number for Yale was just nine turnovers, none coming in that 10-minute run to close the first half for a Bulldogs’ team that came in 303rd nationally in turnover rate (now down to 285th). Duren, particularly, was very composed and committed just two turnovers, and Cotton – who entered with the highest turnover rate on the team – had just one in 27 minutes.
“We have to take care of the basketball if we’re going to win,” Jones said. “Brown only forces 12 or 13 per game, so we knew it was going to be on us. We’ve been harping on it pretty much all year. If we focus and concentrate, we don’t turn the ball over. If you think about our turnovers today, most of them come when guys tried to do too much. When we stay in control and share the ball, we’ll be fine.”
In a game that was physical and called tightly from the opening tip, Brown was whistled for 27 fouls and Yale went to the line 37 times (23-37). The Bears (9-9, 0-1), who posted only their fourth winning record in non-conference play since the Ivy League was formed in 1954, came out of the locker room with plenty of emotion after halftime, but never got closer than 13. And when youngsters Montague and Makai Mason started to join in on the fun for Yale, they led by as many as 26 before cruising home.
“No matter how many fouls the officials are calling, we have to do a better job of keeping the ball in front of us,” Brown coach Mike Martin said. “Most of their foul shots were a result of dribble penetration or offensive rebounds (Yale had 15 at a 37.5% rate), and those are two areas that we were focused on coming in all week long. We knew those were going to be two big keys. Yale did a great job getting the ball in the paint and getting offensive rebounds, and we didn’t do a good job of stopping them.”
Leland King had 10 points in the first 10 minutes, but finished with just 18. Martin said even those shots early were contested and he and his team have to do a better job of getting him looks. Martin went to sharpshooter JR Hobbie early, but he finished just 2-9 (1-8 from three) from the field in 28 minutes. Kuakumensah was swallowed up by Sears, finishing with just five points and three rebounds (he was also in foul trouble), but Martin did get a good game out of Rafael Maia (16 pts, 12 rebs).
What might have been most impressive for Yale is that Brown still looked like a dangerous team going forward if they can hit some shots (just 5-24 from behind the arc) and rebound better on the defensive end.
Of course, with the quirky Ivy League schedule, Yale wants Brown to be as dangerous as they please … after they finish the home-and-home series next Saturday in New Haven.
But in trying to chase its first NCAA Tournament berth in more than a half-century, Yale did not trip on the tricky first hurdle, a veteran team learning its lessons from seasons and trips to Providence past.
However, there are still 13 hurdles to go in the 14-Game Tournament.