Three Thoughts: Yale 66, Sacred Heart 52

James Jones knew, even if he did have a healthy Makai Mason playing for him, that he was going to have an extremely inexperienced team this season. But Jones forgot a little how painful the process of gaining that valuable commodity can be. Yale ranked 27th and 21st nationally in experience the last two seasons and played a big part in their 45 wins, two Ivy League titles, and last season’s NCAA Tournament victory.

This season: 280th. So you get stretches like the second half last week at Bryant where the Bulldogs blew a big second half lead and lost. And the first half Thursday at Sacred Heart, where Yale couldn’t execute a basic pick and roll and turned the ball over 11 times in 34 possessions.

“We were forcing things in the first half, we weren’t patient, and then at the same time, we had opportunities that we passed up where we had good looks,” Jones said. “Then we tried to force things that weren’t there; my God, we tried to throw six alley-oop passes and they all went out of bounds. And none of them were even close.”

Thanks to some solid defense and dreadful shooting from Sacred Heart, the Bulldogs (4-4) went into the locker room tied at 26 and emerged a different squad, immediately racing to a double-digit lead and rolling to a 66-52 win. We don’t know how far young Yale will go this season, and they might be fortunate that the Ivy has a postseason tournament to erase some frustrating winter nights.

But you can almost be assured that they’ll be better in March than they are in December.

“The more you have to do as a coach, the harder your job is. I have to coach more because I don’t have Javier Duren or Makai Mason, Brandon Sherrod, or Justin Sears, guys that have been with me for four years,” Jones said. “We were running a couple of plays and Jordan Bruner isn’t sure what we’re running because he’s a freshman and was out for three weeks. You feel like you have to coach every possession. But we’ll get there, I think.”

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What else did we learn in a game that took only 95 minutes to complete at the Pitt Center Thursday night?

  1. Jordan Bruner is still a work in progress

He’s not quite 100 percent physically, which also plays into any evaluation of Bruner’s game so far, but he has had trouble adjusting to the speed of the college game offensively, which has led to an astronomical 31.0% turnover rate. Sacred Heart did not play him outside the arc, which allowed him to hit three from out there (on six attempts), but the next step will be trying to take his defender either in the post or on the dribble, both of which have been tough for him, even against weaker competition. If you don’t get in his way, however, he has shown he will produce a massive dunk. Again, these are nitpicks, but for someone with as much hype as Bruner does entering Yale, there is some pressure.

Other than being a bit naive on a couple of head fakes, Bruner has been dominant at the defensive end, a long 6’9” that towered over anyone Sacred Heart put on the floor and has produced a block rate (11.6%) that would be in the top 30 nationally if he played enough minutes.

2) Sacred Heart’s prospects in the NEC are still pretty good

The Pioneers played most of the first half without Quincy McKnight and Joseph Lopez, who were in foul trouble, so it stood to reason that they would be better in the second half, but it never happened. Anthony Latina can take solace in the fact that Thursday was only the second time this season Sacred Heart has held an opponent under 1.00 point per possession (win over Norfolk State was the other), but just had a dreadful offensive evening. There is a bit of a concern with Sean Hoehn struggling (he missed a couple of open looks) that they might have a lack of outside threats. Charles Tucker (who, along with De’von Barnett, won’t have his form imitated by youth coaches anytime soon), did hit his only three, and needs to do that if left alone at the top of the key. Someone like Chris Robinson could definitely help off the bench if he’s hitting shots.

“I really felt we played hard and we played most of the first half without our two leading scorers (McKnight and Lopez),” Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina said. “The one thing is, when you defend like we did against a good team like Yale, you have to be up in that situation. Although it was tied, it was a squandered opportunity because I thought we outplayed them in the first half.”

3) Yale’s defense may be different, but still solid

Yale played without perhaps its best defender in Trey Phills (who had this nice feature on him produced by the NCAA), who was out with a minor injury. Alex Copeland has the best offensive rating on the team at the moment, and is improving defensively, which will keep him on the court more if he can continue. With players like Bruner and Anthony Dallier, Yale is very long, and although they are forcing few turnovers (330th), will take their chances in forcing bad shots and not giving up second chances.

There are a couple of worrying numbers at the other end, albeit still early in the campaign. Yale is currently 171st in offensive rebounding (30.1%) after getting just six Thursday (21.2%).  But they’ll be time for those.

“We played much more together in the second half on offense,” Jones said. “I thought we were strong defensively the whole game.”

Said Latina: “When you play a team that’s solid defensively and you do get an open look, you’re just not as comfortable, and I think that’s where you have to give them credit. This is a bad stretch, but I really feel like we’re starting to improve. When you throw the ball at the rim and it never goes in, it’s hard to win.”

Game on from Fairfield (northern part). #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

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