Alex Copeland officially played 4.2% of possible minutes last season as a freshman for Yale, and even that is generous, perhaps 99% of that came in blowouts or just as the final horn was about to sound in a game already decided (yes, that’s Copeland entering as James Jones emptied his bench in the Ivy League clinching win over Columbia in March).
This season, Copeland expected his role to be increased after four seniors graduated. But point guard Makai Mason still remained, as did Trey Phills and Anthony Dallier, the next two on the Yale depth chart when practice opened in October.
That all, changed, though, when Mason – preseason Ivy League Player of the Year – was injured in a scrimmage against Boston University and lost for the season with a broken foot. Phills and Dallier would still start, but Copeland would get his chance, and darned if he was going to take it. The Los Angeles native (who has a twin sister who runs track at Princeton) scored 14 points in 25 minutes as Yale upset Washington in the opener. He followed that up with 20 in the home opener against Lehigh, including a driving layup in the final seconds to send the game to overtime, and six points in the final minute of the extra session to seal it.
When Phills suffered a minor injury before Thursday’s game against Sacred Heart, Copeland logged 33 minutes and scored 16 points on 7-10 shooting as Yale won again. Sunday, Copeland scored 17 points and added three steals as Yale ran its home win streak to 17 – tied with Miami for seventh longest in the nation – with an 81-63 win over Delaware.
“I always knew Coach (Jones) had a lot of faith in me, even before Makai’s injury,” Copeland said. “We just knew we all needed to step up. He’s the best player in the league and no one can do everything that he does, but if we all pitch in in different ways, we can still have a really good team.”
Copeland, who leads the Ivy League with a 119.0 offensive rating thus far and is shooting an even 50% from the field and 42.3% from three (11-26), is a good example of the rising Ivy League. He wasn’t a top recruit, but certainly had plenty of offers and was ranked 37th in Calfornia by ESPN.
It remains to be seen what the rest of the season brings for Copeland, who will soon get more attention from opposing defenses. But, even without Mason, players like Copeland give James Jones and Yale hope of fighting off the competition to hold onto its Ivy League crown a little longer.
“We have a really young team,” Copeland said. “We have a lot of freshmen who contribute, just a young team overall, so I knew I would have to be a leader of the offense. I’ve been here for a year and I saw how it was last year when we expected to win every game, and I learned a lot from the older guys last season, and the process of how they went about preparing and playing.”
What else did we learn at Lee Amphitheater on Sunday?:
- Yale’s defense is key
Sunday was the third straight game holding an opponent under 1.00 point per possession, and the fourth in five. Both Virginia and Pittsburgh barely went over that mark (although good luck scoring on the Cavaliers). They’re not forcing turnovers (although Delaware did have 15 for 22.7%), but are doing well on the defensive glass (79th) and not fouling (79th), which adds up to 103rd in defensive efficiency. Certainly not great compared to last season (33rd), but good enough to compete in the Ivy League.
“Defensively, we’re doing much better,” Jones said. “Rebounding the ball is kind of our DNA. We do something with rebounding every day in practice, so we take pride in that. Some of their stats might have been a little inflated because of their schedule. That being said, we did a pretty good job.”
It also helps to shoot well, which Yale always seems to do at home, finishing 13-28 from three-point range Sunday, including 4-7 from Blake Reynolds and 3-5 from Anthony Dallier. In all, eight different Bulldogs connected from behind the arc.
2) Yale getting healthier
After the game, Bruner declared himself “100 percent healthy”, which may help those defensive stats get better. He finished with 12 points and five rebounds in 17 minutes, but those minutes should be going up soon. The freshman did look more confident before getting into foul trouble and has the potential to put up big rebounding numbers.
“I just needed to get back into a rhythm,” Bruner said. “I knew some shots weren’t going to fall, at east as much as I’d like them to. But I just tried to get some chemistry with some teammates that they already started or had fore before and tried to fit in.”
3) Delaware looks in good hands early
Former Notre Dame assistant Martin Ingelsby wasn’t hired until late May, which put him in a tough spot to start the season. Leading scorer Kory Holder (South Carolina) transferred out and not much remains from a team that won just seven games last season. But although the competition hasn’t been stiff, the Blue Hens are 5-4, and Inglesby was immediately able to grab Philly product Ryan Daly (originally a Hartford commit), who led Delaware with 20 points (and added nine rebounds) Sunday.
The Blue Hens have struggled offensively, but showed Sunday that they’ll defend hard, and with some team to really recruit the next couple of seasons, Ingelsby may be able to succeed at Delaware.
I want a scooter like Makai Mason for Christmas: pic.twitter.com/UqYsJCR8nB
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) December 11, 2016