Three Thoughts: Yale 81, Dartmouth 66 (Harvard Coming Saturday)

As it always does in the 14-Game Tournament, the Ivy League keeps throwing hurdles of different shapes and sizes at Yale, and so far at least, the Bulldogs have cleared them all. Friday, Dartmouth set up their obstacle in the middle of the paint and Yale went right around it, shooting 13-21 from three-point range to post a fairly comfortable 81-66 victory over the pesky Big Green at Lee Amphitheater.

The Bulldogs (16-6 overall) now stand at 5-0 in the Ivy League and will host rival and three-time defending Ivy champ Harvard Saturday night in what is expected to be a sellout.

With Justin Sears held to just three points in the first half and Javier Duren saddled held to just eight points and 18 minutes due to foul trouble, Yale looked elsewhere and the team answered the call.

“Our go-to guys were just carrying us offensively the first four games (in the Ivy League),” Yale coach James Jones said. “Dartmouth did a really good job stopping Justin from scoring. But it was just a matter of time before Jack (Montague) found his stroke, before Makai (Mason) found his, and it kind of steamrolled from there. Armani (Cotton) hit a couple, Greg Kelley had been struggling, he hit a couple. The first four conference games, we didn’t have a lot of balance, but that’s not really who our basketball team is. We’re better when we have balance.”

The numbers from behind the arc are impressive (Montague 5-6, Cotton 2-4, Duren 2-3, Mason 2-3, Kelley 2-3) to everyone except possibly Jones, who called most of them “practice shots” because they were so open, which they were as the Big Green (8-11, 1-4) picked its proverbial poison and perished in a barrage of outside shots.

For a while, though, Dartmouth’s gameplan looked very good as Miles Wright scored 12 points (he would finish with a career-high 20) in the first 15 minutes as the Big Green tied it at 20. However, Yale finished the first half on a 15-1 run to take a commanding halftime lead. The visitors battled hard in the second half, getting as close as eight, but Yale maintained enough composure to keep Dartmouth at bay, going to the free throw line 28 times in the second half (making 20).

Here are my other thoughts from Payne Whitney Gym, which will be rocking Saturday night:

1. Yale’s offense is what is carrying it – Their defense will get plenty of credit, but the Bulldogs were the most efficient offensive team in the Ivy even before Friday, and they entered fifth in eFG% (46.8%) and three-point shooting (32.8%). Obviously both those numbers will rise after Friday. Look, every team can have a bad night, but you double Sears like Dartmouth did, and Yale has several guys that can make shots, starting with Jack Montague, who is as good an open shooter as they come. They will be tested against Harvard’s 22nd ranked defense tomorrow, but they’ll be encouraged by the fact Brown put up 1.07 points per possession Friday.

“Dartmouth packs it in the paint and shows a lot of help side stuff,” Montague said. “When we got penetration and there were double-teams, it left a lot of us open for shots.”

2. Dartmouth really wishes the Ivy wasn’t as strong as it is  – By past standards, the Big Green have a decent team that should finish at .500 or above, which they obviously showed by stunning Harvard two weeks ago. They have a lot of good players, but they’ve struggled big-time offensively the last three games. In the first half Friday, everyone not named Miles Wright has 3-18 from the field. When Alex Mitola isn’t hitting shots, opponents can take away a player like Kevin Crescenzi and you get what you saw Friday, a team high on effort, but low on offensive efficiency (Dartmouth is currently last in Ivy play).

“We have to answer offensively and we were just inept offensively for most of the game,” Dartmouth coach Paul Cormier said. “We were very impatient and we can’t play that way. We can’t get caught up in that. Defensively, our kids do a good job, they stick with the plan and work hard, but offensively, we just didn’t stick with the plan.”

3. Harvard calling – The Crimson have stood in the way of James Jones and Yale making that last step to Ivy League glory for three years now, and although it isn’t exactly a war of words back and forth, Jones has questioned Harvard’s recent rise when asked, which has to make it doubly tough when the Crimson are the ones standing in the way once again with his team trying to finally end a 52-year NCAA Tournament drought. The job won’t be done even if Yale beats Harvard Saturday (Yale has not played Princeton yet, who could be 4-1 in the league when the Bulldogs head to New Jersey if the Tigers can beat Cornell Saturday), but it’s as big a game as Lee Amphitheater has seen (at least involving Yale, Doug Davis and Princeton beat Harvard for the Ivy title in 2011 in New Haven) in a long, long time.

“The records don’t really matter that much as much as the history and all the stuff that comes with that,” Jones said. “We expect them to come in and play hard and give us their best.”

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