HANOVER, N.H. – Everyone knew about the elephant in Leede Arena, but when he sat down behind the Yale bench early in the second half, the Bulldogs decided they’d had quite enough.
The Bulldogs were overdue for a bit of a comeuppance, coming into Dartmouth with a 60.4 eFG% in Ivy League play complete with a 47.0% three-point percentage. And it made sense that it might come in Hanover, site of last season’s catastrophe that does not need to be rehashed (but you can do so at your own peril if you wish), Yale’s first road game in three weeks and just its second in conference play.
Add in the absence of captain Jack Montague, gone indefinitely for “personal reasons”, which played just as much a mental role as physical and Yale looked ripe for the taking, even against a young 7-13 Dartmouth squad that has lost four straight Ivy games.
Yale’s only lead of the first half was 2-0 and when Miles Wright hit Dartmouth’s third consecutive three-pointer, the Big Green led 41-32 with 16:52 left, and there was very little in Yale’s body language that suggested a large run was imminent.
The Dartmouth lead was still 48-40 with 14 minutes left, but Makai Mason, Justin Sears, and the the rest of the Bulldogs took over the proceedings from there. Mason, who was 0-7 from the field in the first half, drained a three to start what would be an 11-2 run that gave Yale the lead with 8:38 left. It was tied a minute later when Mason hit another three to put the Bulldogs ahead 55-52, a lead that – unlike last season – they would not relinquish. Of course, it was Mason who stuck the dagger in with a corner three that put Yale up 64-54 with 4:01 left.
“The last few weeks, we’ve shot lights out. Makai Mason was due to have a first half like he had tonight,” Yale coach James Jones said. “But I thought our guys really gritted it out and fought the entire game and found a way to get it done in a game where we didn’t play our best. We told Makai in the huddle to keep shooting and we knew they would fall eventually.”
In all, Mason scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half on 6-9 from the field, hitting all four of his threes. And every one of them was big.
“Collectively, we knew we couldn’t lose this game,” Mason said. “From last year, we knew we had to stay focused because anything could happen, even when we had the lead at the end.”
Yale hasn’t won anything yet, obviously, so some of the bitter taste from last year’s defeat at Dartmouth will linger until an NCAA Tournament berth is secure, and with Princeton and Columbia both winning again Friday, it won’t be easy. But at least that damn elephant is gone for now.
“There was a sense of urgency and remembering what happened here last year,” Sears said. “We had a lead last year and we kind of relaxed. We weren’t going to let that happen again this time.”
What else did we learn at Leede Arena Friday?:
- Montague’s loss could be pivotal
James Jones said after the game that he was not sure if and when Jack Montague would return, and while he is only averaging 9.8 points per game, Yale does not have much depth, and without his shooting, things become much more difficult. To his credit, Anthony Dallier – making his first start in two seasons – scored five quick points – and finished one off his career high with 10. Jones also got 26 minutes (5 pts., 6 rebs.) out of Khaliq Ghani with Nick Victor limited to 19 minutes (0 pts., 1 reb.) due to foul trouble.
Other than Ghani, the bench played just 10 minutes total. Is that sustainable over the long haul? Well, the haul only has seven games left, I guess. After that dreadful first half, Yale did go for 1.33 points per possession in the second half thanks to Mason and Justin Sears (21 pts., 13 rebs.)
— IvyLeagueBasketball (@Ivy_Basketball) February 13, 2016
2) Playing toward next year for Dartmouth
Early in the game, Evan Boudreaux took the ball right on Brandon Sherrod and scored. Two possessions later, he did the same to Sears. Boudreaux eventually cooled off, but finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Paul Cormier has basically ridden with Boudreaux, Miles Wright, Cameron Smith, and Taylor Johnson this season, all of which will have two more years of eligibility left (Boudreaux three).
Cormier was careful to say afterward that Saturday’s game against Brown was huge for the program because they don’t want to fall apart on the second day of a back-to-back after a solid performance the first day, but he has to have one eye toward the future, and this is probably a game Dartmouth has a really good chance to win next year. Dartmouth (7-13, 1-6) will have to improve at both ends, but the future seems bright.
“I thought we caught them a little bit, it was maybe the night we could spring an upset,” Cormier said. “They’ve won 10 in a row. Eventually, though, we had trouble scoring at key times and they did a great job on the offensive glass and caused us to foul too much.”
3) Tactical switches
With Friday’s win, Yale will finish at least .500 this season in conference play (if they don’t finish better, it might be the greatest collapse of all time). That means James Jones will be .500 or better in 14 of his last 15 seasons at the helm of Yale, which is an impressive streak. The only time he didn’t was 2009-10 when the Bulldogs finished 6-8 in the Ivy League.
Jones doesn’t often get credit (largely because he’s never led Yale to the NCAA Tournament), but he and his staff made the key tactical switch at halftime, deciding to double Boudreaux in the paint with Sears and Sherrod every time he got the ball. The freshman had all kinds of trouble getting out of the double, creating bad shots and turnovers for the Big Green, and helping Yale stay in striking distance until Mason could catch fire and Sears could dominate the paint.
“It’s always hard to win on the road,” Jones said. “This place has never been easy. Now we get some rest on the bus and go to Harvard tomorrow.”