HANOVER – As Yale men’s basketball players streamed into the visitors’ locker room at Leede Arena Friday night, throwing white championship T-shirts over navy game jerseys, their focus was on the hardware.
A 72–61 win over Dartmouth (12–16, 5–8 Ivy) secured Yale (23–6, 11–2) its second consecutive Ivy League conference title, and in their first minutes back in the locker room postgame, players hoisted a silver Ancient Eight trophy in celebration. But even before head coach James Jones and his staff entered the locker room, reinvigorating the festivities, players had shifted their focus to a different game, one still in progress. Players passed around the trophy as they pulled out their phones.
The internet connection at Leede had been poor all night — and service in Hanover was slightly worse — so although the updates came in fragments, the weight of Yale’s win soon crystallized. Brown (14–12, 7–6) held a double-digit lead over Harvard (20–8, 9–4) in the final minutes, and soon, the Bulldogs’ outright title had been confirmed. A 64–55 win for the Bears in Boston meant Yale’s win at Dartmouth had secured an outright Ivy title and the No. 1 seed at Ivy Madness next weekend.
The victory secured the Bulldogs’ fourth Ivy League title in six years and its first outright trophy since 2016.
“When I got in the league, it was a lot different than it is right now,” Jones said once the locker room celebration had cooled and Yale had returned to the court for a team photo. “To be Ivy League champions again back to back, second time we’ve done that… for Yale basketball to [also win four in six seasons], it’s a great statement for us and it’s a great statement for where our program is, and I couldn’t be prouder of my coaching staff and my team.”
Friday’s win was a well-rounded effort, a victory in which nearly all five starters scored in double figures. Captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 tied his career-high to lead the way with 15 points, while forward Paul Atkinson ’21 and guard Azar Swain ’21 each finished with 14. Guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 scored 9, and forward Jordan Bruner ’20 collected a game-high 11 rebounds.
All 15 of Monroe’s points came from deep, as the captain set a new career mark with five three-point conversions. Four fell in the second half to help Yale pull away from a Big Green squad that owned a slim lead five minutes into the frame.
“It was the same things that’s always the focus for us, defending, rebounding and sharing, but particularly we’re really trying to get back to our defensive roots right now,” Monroe said. “I thought we did a good job of that for most of the game.”
The Bulldogs locked in on defense to start, racing to a double-digit lead. Gabbidon scored Yale’s first points of the game just three seconds after tip off, and when another layup from the junior guard brought Yale’s advantage to 27–11 exactly 10 minutes later, the few on hand in Hanover had practically nothing to applaud. Although the Big Green maintained a slim chance of advancing to Ivy Madness at the start of the weekend, only 558 showed up for Yale’s title win Friday — Dartmouth hosted Princeton in a men’s hockey playoff game at the same time across the street.
At 6-foot-7, Big Green forward Chris Knight stands three inches shorter than Atkinson. Managing Bruner and Atkinson in the paint proved too much for Knight and 6-foot-6 forward Aaryn Rai, who sacrificed several points in the paint to Yale early.
But the Big Green ended the first period on a 19–6 run, as Knight and Rai responded to Yale’s 16-point lead with points of their own. The duo combined to shoot seven-for-11 in the first, contributing 17 of Dartmouth’s 30 in the half. Yale led 33–30 at the break.
“We got into the locker room, we really just kind of emphasized we want to be champions,” forward Wyatt Yess ’21 said of Yale’s halftime conversation. “They’re just trying to ruin our season, so we knew that if we came out, played hard and played our game, just kind of got back to the basics, moved the ball and shared, we’d have a great chance of winning.”
Immediately out of the break, a three-pointer from guard Ian Sistare tied the contest at 33, and a layup in the post from Knight gave his side its first lead of the night on Dartmouoth’s next possession. The two shots extended Dartmouth’s run to 24–6 across halftime. When Swain hit Yale’s first three-pointer of the half a few minutes later after the Bulldogs shot three-of-13 from deep in the first, he barely showed emotion. Only relief.
Dartmouth’s lead stood at 42–41 with 14:50 to play before a 16–2 run for the Bulldogs restored their postgame celebratory hopes. Monroe sunk two three-pointers over the stretch as Yess added five points, including a three of his own. The triple in front of Yale’s bench offered concrete proof of a big night for Yess, whose six rebounds trailed only those of Bruner and whose hustle escaped the box score.
“One of the question marks coming into the season was who was going to be our third or fourth postman, who was going to be the guys to step up,” Jones said. “What we asked of the guys to do that was to go out and to chase the ball and to defend. Wyatt has done that at a great clip, and offensively, he’s becoming much more reliable, and he adds a little punch and that really helps our team.”
Behind its defense and seven second-half triples, Yale maintained its lead through the buzzer, claiming at least a portion of the Ivy title as Brown’s lead over the Crimson grew in Boston.
Owning the outright title takes the pressure off Saturday night’s showdown against Harvard, which will not change any tournament seeding. But for a program in the midst of a seven-game regular-season skid against the Crimson, securing a win at Lavietes Pavilion before playing on the same court for Ivy Madness next weekend still feels important. Yale has not won a game in the gym since February 2016.
“For my guys in the locker room, that’s something they want to accomplish, and it’s an opportunity to do that,” Jones said. “And so we want to go and feel good about ourselves. We don’t want to go into the tournament with a loss. We want to continue on a hot streak and continue going.”
Harvard guard Christian Juzang did not play in Harvard’s loss to Brown Friday, sitting instead on the bench in a suit and boot. The senior sustained an ankle injury last weekend against Columbia, joining injured classmates Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken. Towns will not play again this year, while Amaker told The Crimson he is “hopeful” Juzang can return for Ivy Madness.
Amaker added that he “would be surprised if there were some way that [Aiken] would return” for the tournament.
“I think we just want to get them back,” Monroe said. “It’d be nice to head into the Ivy tournament with a win at their place. That’s where it’s gonna be, so we want to make sure we’re comfortable on their floor, know we can win on their floor, and we think we’re the better team, so that’s the goal. There’s nothing too complicated about it. We just want to go in and get a win before the tournament.”
In addition to earning its second straight Ivy title Friday, Yale brought its three-point count to 259 this season, setting a new program record.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org