Yale 83, NJIT 65: Bulldogs Continue To Thrash Opponents

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Jack Montague finished 1-14 from the field, Justin Sears was held to just 13 points, and Brandon Sherrod was limited to just 15 minutes due to foul trouble … and Yale scored 1.30 points per possession is dismantling NJIT 83-65 at Lee Amphitheater Wednesday night.

Be afraid, Ivy League?

Yale is only 8-5, which might even be a tick behind its lofty preseason expectations, but (as Kevin Whitaker pointed out as well), when the Bulldogs find a weakness in an opponent, they are cold-hearted in their exploitation and lack of compassion.

In four home games, Yale (against Sacred Heart, Bryant, Vermont, and NJIT) has won by an average of 23.3 points, and was coming off a 20-point win at Central Connecticut and a 35-point thrashing at Hartford. To be fair, NJIT used a 15-7 run to get within 38-33 at the half, but Yale answered with a 12-2 run to start the second, and the Highlanders (9-7), whom we know their history of playing against good teams, never really looked likely to be in the game at the end.

So how has Yale done it? Well, much of it starts with Nick Victor, who started 30 games in his sophomore year of 2013-14, and would have likely been redshirted last season if he was anywhere else but the Ivy League. Instead, he tried to push through a knee injury and played in just six games, scoring three points.

With teams (like NJIT) set on stopping Sears by doubling hard in the post, Sears has become more adept at finding open people, and – at least lately – those open people have been successful at hitting shots, beginning with Victor, a senior.

Victor was only a 28.1% three-point shooter as a sophomore (and was an unbelievable 28.0% from the free throw line), but has now made six of his last seven threes and has at least one in eight of his last nine games (and is up to 65.0% from the line) to go to an even 50% (14-28) for the season.

“Nick has been tremendous to come back from his injury last year the way he has,” Yale coach James Jones said. “People have talked about us not having Brandon last year but we didn’t have Nick either. He tried to come back and he wasn’t 100 percent. I watched tape of last year’s game against these guys (Victor did play 16 minutes against NJIT last season), and it’s a different man. It’s nice to have have back with confidence.”

Victor also tied a career high with 16 points and added six rebounds and four assists without turning the ball over in 23 minutes.

“It was really tough last season,” Victor said. “I thought I was going to get play, but my knee didn’t want to cooperate. It was tough to watch, especially how the season ended (with a loss to harvard in the Ivy League playoff), but it just gives us motivation for this season.”

With Montague struggling, Makai Mason again proved that he needs the full attention of defenses, scoring 24 points. And with Sherrod in foul trouble, junior Sam Downey added 15 points, including stepping out and hitting a three.

“Sam (Downey) had six baskets, but probably four of them were layups,” Yale coach James Jones said. “When the other team doubles the post, it opens up some other players and we did a good job of finding them.”

For the record, Sears finished seven assists, tying his career high and moving him into 10th in the Ivy League in that category, just behind Maodo Lo. Yale had 16 offensive rebounds (44.0%), which was right near their average (42.2%, 5th in the nation).

There is no way, of course, to know whether Yale con continue at this pace against Ivy League competition. The Bulldogs are still just 157th in offensive efficiency, and there is some irony that their defensive rank actually worsened from 20th to 28th thanks to NJIT scoring 1.02 ppp (thanks to 24 from Damon Lynn). But while games are not won inside computers (but inside TV sets, as Kenny Mayne would tell us), none of the bottom half of the Ivy League is in the same ballpark as NJIT, which would at least make Yale a heavy favorite to be 3-0 in the Ivy when us hosts Princeton on Jan. 30.

But that is a long way off. What else did we learn Wednesday as Yale returned to Lee Amphitheater for the first time in 55 days?:

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1) Some concern for NJIT?

Saturday will be a day of celebration in Newark, as NJIT will host its first game as a member of the Atlantic Sun, with a legitimate chance to do what every other Division I team (at least those eligible) can: making the NCAA Tournament. However, the Highlanders were blown out by Stony Brook and struggled to hold off UMBC last weekend. The good news is that arguably no one in the Atlantic Sun has the size that Stony Brook and Yale have, and NJIT did have a win at St. Francis University, which is 2-0 in the NEC at the time of this writing. But this was not a terribly encouraging performance.

“It was a game where we had to rebound, they’re very physical inside, and we just couldn’t match their physicality inside,” NJIT coach Jim Engles said. “We did for some periods, but we couldn’t do it for the whole game. They’re a very good team. Justin Sears and Sherrod are two quality big men, certainly at this level, and they pass the ball really well. And then you have Mason banging threes. We were able to hang with them for a little while, but we just stopped scoring points.”

2) Does Yale need to play a close game?

James Jones sounded a little upset that Wednesday’s game did not end up a little closer afterward. Yale’s last non-conference game is against Division III Daniel Webster on Friday and then it’s the traditional home-and-home with Brown. If tradition holds, at least one of those games will be tight down the stretch (Javier Duren hit a buzzer beater to beat Brown at Lee Amphitheater last season), and the only two games Yale has played this season decided by single-figures, it has lost: at SMU and at Illinois. The Bulldogs are not real deep, but Jones surely would like to know how some of his players would react to a tight end-game situation.

“It’s actually some cause for concern because we really haven’t played too many tight games this season,” Jones said. “It was five at halftime, so it was good to be in a game like that and show some grit. In the second half, we did a great job of coming together and defending, which we didn’t do in the first half.”

3) Turnover bug

If there is one thing that has held Yale back more than anything else offensively, it is turnovers. Yale committed just 10 on Wednesday (15.6%), far below its 21.6% average, which is just 323rd nationally. The Bulldogs are very deliberate with the ball, 310th in adjusted tempo. In some of its losses, Yale has been extremely turnover prone, with 23 against Illinois (33.3%) and 16 at USC (25.4%).

Bonus) Concern for Montague?

Obviously, it was a brutal 1-14 outing for one of the Ivy League’s most prolific shooters, and it’s probably safe to call it a slump of sorts: Montague is just 22.7% from the field (10-44) in his last five games, averaging only 6.2 points per game. Overall, he is shooting just 34.5% from the field, although still a respectable 36.0% from behind the arc, even if it is well below his career average (Montague led the Ivy at 43.5% last season).

Even if they didn’t need him Wednesday, they will at some point. You may remember he slumped at the end of last season, going scoreless in his last three games and averaging just 3.8 points per game in Yale’s final seven games.

Right now, it’s a mild concern, the 11 three-point attempts were a career high and he’ll have another chance to break the slide Friday against Division III competition. But they’re going to likely need Montague at some point if they are to finally grab that elusive outright Ivy League title.

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