NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Even though it’s 2016, some people (less than you’d think, but still) don’t quite grasp the concept of being efficient, whether it be on offense or defense. So Yale, being the smart Ivy Leaguers they are, have given you a nice lesson in their first three conference games.
For instance, an 81-58 win Friday night over Penn probably stands out to you as a defensive masterpiece rather than an offensive one for the Bulldogs (12-5, 3-0), but it shouldn’t. The game was played at a plodding 63-possession pace, allowing Yale to take its time and use its size and strength to pound the young Quakers (6-10, 0-2) into submission.
In the end, Yale finished at 1.29 points per possession, and as coach James Jones said afterward, “It seemed like we scored on every trip down the floor at the beginning of the second half.”
Probably because they did. So while Penn only managed 58 points, it had a decent offensive night (0.92 ppp) against the 33rd most efficient defense in the nation. Forced to go small after Darien Nelson-Henry couldn’t go because of an ankle injury (he started but played only three minutes before coming out), Penn got 17 points from Matt Howard and some offense (especially in the first half) from freshmen Max Rothschild and Tyler Hamilton, as well as sophomore Sam Jones, whom Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod had a heck of a time trying to keep up with on the perimeter.
At the other end, though, well, Penn just couldn’t stop Yale. Outmatched physically (Yale finished with 16 offensive rebounds and a 53.3% rate), the Bulldogs did, as Jones said, score almost every time down the floor. After struggling a bit in the non-conference campaign, the Bulldogs are at 1.20 ppp in Ivy play, .13 ahead of anyone else in the conference (Princeton is second).
Sherrod, who was 9-9 from the field against Brown last week, was 7-7 on Friday, and you don’t need Ivy League math to compute those percentages (with some irony, Sherrod was just 4-12 against Division III Daniel Webster earlier this month).
Obviously, it’s a small sample size and the schedule strength has not been tough, but offensive efficiency, no matter how slow the pace, may be the biggest key to Yale finally ending that 54-year NCAA Tournament drought.
“That’s who we are, that’s what we do,” Jones said.
They will be tested Saturday night against Princeton, who comes in atop the Ivy defensive efficiency ratings (0.86 ppp) and is 74th nationally in efficiency.
What else did we learn Friday night at Lee Amphitheater?:
1) Mucking it up
The pace Yale likes to play at, along with the personnel (strong, physical specimens in Sears, Sherrod, and Nick Victor) and the freedom of movement rules can make for some ugly basketball, especially against smaller opponents like Brown and Penn, who have to do something to try to stop them.
One of the issues for Yale in this case is that it is not real deep. Sears and Victor were in foul trouble again, and the Bulldogs have been able to deal with that as well as poor free throw shooting. Yale was just 17-33 from the line Friday and is currently 303rd nationally (65.2%). Making the Bulldogs work harder also raises their turnovers, where they are only 324th at a 21.5% rate (15 at a 23.8% rate Friday).
So far, however, the Bulldogs have won all three Ivy games convincingly, so there’s no real problem.
“We have a word of the day every day and I kind of get up on the soapbox and talk about it, and one of the words this week was muck,” Jones said. “I felt like they were going to muck things up, either by changing defenses or being physical. So we have to stay mentally tough through that and not get into foul trouble and out of our game because we don’t need to do that to win.”
Said Donahue: “We started doubling because we had to, but then you get detached from the other guy to double and then you lose them on the glass. Sherrod did a great job around the rim. He’s poised, experienced, and obviously Justin is the same way. They’re just a hard combo to match physically.”
2) Penn has potential
It’s a long-term plan for Donahue, and amongst the growing pains, he had to like what his young team did offensively in the first half. At one point, Max Rothschild went right at Sears and scored over him, which was followed by Tyler Hamilton hitting a three, as the Quakers climbed to within three late in the first half. But, as we have established, Yale just wore them down, physically and mentally. Penn started to unravel a bit as the lead slowly increased in the second half, eventually pulling away for an easy win.
“We probably fouled too much trying to match their physicality, which showed some of our inexperience,” Donahue said. “The first step is to get them to play hard for 40 minutes, which I think we did, but we fouled too much. Like I said, I was pleased with the physical part, but the tactical and mental part is not there yet.”
3) Yale-Princeton Episode I
You may forget (because it was three weeks ago) that Penn could have, should have been knocked Princeton off at the Palestra, but lost in overtime, and the Tigers now come to New Haven 2-0 after holding Cedric Kuakumensah scoreless in beating up on Brown Friday. Just as the Ivy may be a bit more physical since Donahue was dominating at Cornell, Princeton is not necessarily the Princeton you might remember, they like to push pace a little, and will force turnovers with pressure from time to time.
The Tigers also will enter Lee Amphitheater fourth nationally in not allowing offensive rebounds (22.1%) while Yale is fourth in getting offensive boards (42.4%). Should be a good one, and Sears will be desperate to stay out of foul trouble, something he’s had to deal with in all three Ivy games this season.
“Just play my game,” Sears said. “Teams are going to try to come after me, either flop or drive at me, so I just have to deal with it and play my game.”
A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on