NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Conference play brings a new level of intensity, but it’s doubly so in the Ivy League, where there (for now at least) is no postseason tournament.
So it shouldn’t have been surprising that a team like Brown, which had a relatively disappointing 5-9 non-conference campaign and hasn’t had a winning Ivy season since 2007-08, would take the reset and set out to make life as difficult as possible for Ivy League favorite Yale Saturday night, especially with essentially no one else to prepare for in the past two weeks (Brown did have a game last week, but like Yale it was against Division III Daniel Webster).
The end result: A plodding, whistle-filled, ugly, interminable basketball game that eventually Yale prevailed in 77-68, but – even though Yale (10-5, 1-0) had the lead for the final 38 minutes – there were some nervous moments down the stretch to go with cavalcade of free throw shooters and monitor reviews.
“We haven’t had a game like this in a long time, this is the first non-double digit win we’ve had all season,” Yale coach James Jones said. “With that being said, it was nice to play well enough to win in down the stretch when we had to: make enough free throws, get enough stops. I thought our defense was stellar the entire game, which it needed to be to win.”
At the opening tip, Mike Martin was loud and vocal on every play, but after Cedric Kuakumensah (18 pts., 12 rebs.) hit two free throws to put Brown (5-10, 0-1) up 4-2, Yale ran off the next 19 points and by then Martin had burned a time out and was sitting back in his chair.
But to Brown and Martin’s credit, the lead would never get bigger than the 17 it was seven minutes in, by halftime the Bears had crawled back to within 37-31 thanks to some fantastic defense (for a team 274th in efficiency) and three-pointers from five different players.
The second half, partly by Brown’s design, featured 31 fouls and 40 free throws to go with four monitor reviews that totaled 15 minutes in delays. Yale shot more foul shots (26) than field goals (23). After scoring 12 points and six rebounds in the first half, reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears did not score after halftime, getting called for a flagrant foul with 12:15 left and only playing another minute on the floor before picking up two more fouls and being disqualified with 4:20 remaining.
The Bulldog lead was only 65-59 at that point, but Brown could only get within five the rest of the way, as Yale – led by Nick Victor of all people – did enough at the free throw line to survive.
The two will meet again next Saturday in Providence and Jones, for one, expects more of the same.
“It’s the way it goes,” Jones said. “I haven’t really thought much of how the schedule works. We’ve won nine of the last 11 against them. It’s always hard to play on the road. We can play a lot better than we did tonight and hopefully we will next week.”
What else did we learn on Kids’ Day at Payne Whitney Gym?:
- Officiating could be key in key games
It’s easy to keep a tight whistle and enforce everything that is supposed to be enforced in non-conference games, which sometimes aren’t as intense and don’t have as much of a bearing on team’s final mark. But as I said, Brown – outclassed on paper – was going to do everything in its power to not let Yale dominate. That meant trying to get out in transition and trying to fight inside against Brandon Sherrod and Sears with only one true post player (although a good one in Kuakumensah). That meant it was often 6’6”, 200-pound Steven Spieth who drew the assignment. Both Sears’ fourth and fifth fouls were trying to gain position on a smaller player, and would likely not have been called last season, but by the letter of the law this season, he technically moved the opponent from their space.
Needless to say, against teams like Columbia and Princeton, how the game is called may have a a massive impact.
“I thought the fouls that were called hurt the flow of the game,” Jones said. “I can’t wait to watch the tape to see exactly what they were. Some of them seemed like there was no contact there. If you judge our last three basketball games the way they were officiated, this one wasn’t like any of those three.”
Said Sears: “Just one of those days, props to my teammates to rally without me.”
— Justin Sears (@Jussears5) January 17, 2016
2) Brown can play spoiler? Maybe?
Yale had no answer for Tavon Blackmon (who also fouled out) for stretches of the game (although he did finish with six turnovers against three assists), as he got in the paint whenever he pleased. JR Hobbie had to force a few shots at the end, but is certainly not someone that can be left alone, and then Kuakumensah went out and hit a couple of threes, as he’s done this season.
And, although Yale finished at 1.05 points per possession and did post 16 offensive rebounds (45.7%), Brown – which was dreadful in defensive turnover rate coming in – forced 18 Yale turnovers (24.7%). Alas, last season, Brown was just not consistent enough, and that will be what they’ll need to win Ivy games in a competitive league this season.
3) Yale’s supporting cast
One of Yale’s weaknesses (another is the turnover rate, which is up to a dreadful 21.8% now, 329th in the nation after being 270th last season) is its depth. With Khaliq Ghani out and Jones reluctant to use the freshmen, the Bulldogs faced a bit of a crisis with Sears fouled out and Jack Montague in foul trouble. Jones turned to Anthony Dallier (6 pts., 5 rebs.) for 23 minutes, but the real star – again – was Nick Victor, who had 11 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks in just the second half. Perhaps most amazingly, of the six Yale players that attempted free throws, Victor was the only one not to miss. In his sophomore and junior seasons combined, Victor was 15-44 from the foul line (not a misprint), yet after a 4-4 performance Saturday is now 18-27 (66.7%) at the line this season.
“Justin’s definitely our leader, so we had to band together when he fouled out,” Victor said. “We knew we were in the bonus, so if we could just get to the free throw line and make them, we’d be all right. You get confidence from the ball going in the hoop. I kind of went through a slump earlier in the year, but I’m starting to get out of it.”
Said Jones: “Last year, he was our best player in preseason. He played better consistently than Justin or Javier (Duren) in practice, and then he got hurt. He definitely would have contributed to our team last year.”
Bonus) Sign explaining
These signs showed up in pregame:
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) January 16, 2016
which, well the Ivy League is known for some bizarre signs (this is my personal favorite of all time), but some digging on why a kid from the San Diego area would have a fan club at Yale brought an explanation. One of those people holding the signs is Karlee Fuller, sister of Brown freshman Travis Fuller, and also coincidentally, the Yale volleyball captain this season. Fuller finished with three assists in nine minutes, but led the day in cool signs.
A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on