PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears missed a dunk and then picked up his second foul midway through the first half Friday night against Brown, which seemed to spell trouble for Yale. A couple of minutes later when Cedric Kuakumensah stepped out and hit a three, the game was tied, and visions of the only other Division I game Sears missed this season were surely dancing in many people’s head.
But not necessarily Yale head coach James Jones.
With Sears playing the role of enthusiastic cheerleader, the Bulldogs outscored the Bears 21-8 in the final six minutes of the first half and cruised to a 90-66 victory at the Pizzitola Center in a game that was originally slated for Saturday but moved up 24 hours because of impending snow.
In the end, Sears finished with just seven points and leading scorer Makai Mason added just five, yet the Bulldogs (11-5, 2-0) scored 1.27 points per possession even after a sluggish start, putting up a ridiculous 71 points in the final 26 minutes of the contest. Brandon Sherrod (24 pts., 9-9 FG) and Sam Downey (18 pts.) both had career nights, and although Brown knew what was coming, they seemed powerless to stop it.
— IvyLeagueBasketball (@Ivy_Basketball) January 23, 2016
“We were impressing on our guys to run our offense and to share the ball,” Jones said. “We thought if we did that, we would get some good opportunities, and we got great opportunities. Our post guys have done a great job finishing on the rolls. On a night where Makai Mason and Justin Sears have subpar games for them, we were able to go out and dominate, and that’s a great sign for a coach. Between Brandon Sherrod and Sam Downey they went 17-20 from the field, and you’re going to win a lot of games if your post players can do that.”
Said Brown coach Mike Martin: “From probably the last five minutes of the first half through, really the whole second half, but certainly the first five or six minutes of the second half, they scored on almost every possession. I thought our defense started out the game with some good energy and made some stops, but against a team like Yale, you have to do it for 40 minutes. I thought our defense let us down a little for that 10-minute stretch and they made us pay.”
Yale entered the contest just 169th in offensive efficiency and trailed 10-5 six minutes in. After coming back to grab a 19-14 lead, the Bulldogs went scoreless on four straight possessions, and then put on a clinic worthy of an Ivy League favorite. A Sears dunk, which just so happened to be his first points of the night, put Yale up 56-35 with 15:42 left and pretty much ended the competitive portion of the evening.
“That’s a talented, experienced, well-coached Yale team,” Martin said. “They just outplayed us and did everything better than we did tonight, and obviously you have to give them all the credit. Hopefully, we can learn from it because it was certainly a lesson taught by Yale tonight.”
What else did we learn at the Pizzitola Center, where I also watched the Yale women outlast Brown 48-39 to move to 2-0 in Ivy League play?:
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) January 23, 2016
- Some week for Brandon Sherrod
It’s still amazing to watch Sherrod and think that he took a whole YEAR off from basketball last season and is as effective as he’s been. However, he had struggled a bit from the field (46.4%) and the free throw line (51.4%) before Friday. As I’ve discussed before, Sherrod creates massive matchup problems in the Ivy League when paired with Sears because how do you account for both? To his credit, Steven Spieth finished with 13 rebounds, but he is no match physically for Sherrod (or really Sam Downey on this night), and while Kuaumensah was doing a decent job before getting into foul trouble, even he had his hands full.
“The first one I hit was pretty tough, so after that went it, I was like, ‘This is going to be a good night.’ It was nice to get into a rhythm and dominate,” Sherrod said. “Our other post guys did, too. I was able to wedge myself in there and get some points. They hedged a lot, and my teammates were able to find me, and I was able to score.”
It was a great week for the Sherrod household overall as the singing talents are clearly not limited to Brandon. Younger sister Chynna (you can see Sherrod’s family at the end of that link) made it through the auditions for the final American Idol season and will be heading to Hollywood as one of 24 to compete on FOX this season.
— American Idol (@AmericanIdol) January 22, 2016
(Of course, Chynna is still only the second famous sibling involved in Friday’s proceedings by a pretty wide margin, which is quite amazing).
You may recall (or perhaps you don’t) that last year’s winner was also from Connecticut, Nick Fradiani. I asked Sherrod if he knew him, and he said he had worked with him on occasion and he was immensely talented.
Brandon Sherrod, living the life.
2) Where to for Brown?
While, as I pointed out, it was fairly easy for Brown to get motivated for the beginning of Ivy League play, now at 5-11 and 0-2 and obviously all but out of the Ivy race (the last Ivy champ to start 0-2 with 1983-84 Princeton, by the way). The Bears did battle last season after getting swept by Yale, taking Harvard to overtime in Providence (oh, wouldn’t Yale have loved for Brown to pull that one out in hindsight) and finishing 4-10.
Kuakumensah (13 pts., 8 rebs) was hampered by foul trouble, but is certainly worthy of a look for All-Ivy this season. Brown’s big problem is on the defensive end, where they are down to 294th after Friday’s performance and have not forced many turnovers (299th, Yale – who is very poor at taking care of the ball – had just 10 for 14.1%).
Brown has the weapons to score, but if it can’t stop anyone, it really won’t matter.
3) Where to for Yale?
Sweeping Brown is great and the manner that they did it was excessively impressive, but bigger tests await for the Bulldogs in their quest to end the 53-year NCAA Tournament drought. Their next four games are at home (Penn, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell), which seems like a blessing, but it means a lot of pressure will be on them to hold serve. Yale does not play Harvard until Feb. 13 and then does so twice in 13 days.
“I think that our guys are smart enough to know what we have in front of us,” Jones said. “I have some concerns because next week will be the first time we’ll play back-to-back. It was good to get our guys some rest tonight, but it’s hard to play back-to-back, so we’ll have to get ready for that.”
A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on