Saturday, February 21, 2015

GAME RECAP: Yale 62 Cornell 51

As much as we like numbers, they sometimes don’t tell the whole story or accurately predict a snapshot in time, i.e. a 40-minute basketball game over the course of a fairly long season.
Friday night, though, one look at the stat sheet – or more appropriately, the KenPom numbers – could have given you a pretty good idea of what was going to happen between Yale and Cornell. The Big Red entered with some stellar defensive numbers that worried the Bulldogs, 69th nationally in defensive efficiency, 34th in eFG%.
And sure enough, the Yale offense had all kinds of trouble scoring, shooting 5-20 from three-point range and never looking comfortable (Yale turned it over 16 times, something Cornell had not done exceptionally this season).
That much went according to plan for upset-minded Cornell. What happened at the other end did not. It did, however, match the script. The Big Red were a poor 302nd in offensive efficiency, 312th in eFG% and were matched up against a top-100 defense in Yale. Cornell was also without second-leading scorer Robert Hatter (illness), and the result was, well, predictable.
“You know what, the non-flow of the game was probably to our advantage,” Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. “We kind of wanted to make the game ratty against such a good offensive team. They have five guys on the floor that can really hurt you, plus they’re a great rebounding team. It was our plan to make the game sloppy and force those guys into some turnovers. Fortunately for us, we got the turnovers, we just couldn’t convert them into anything. We missed six layups in the first half and six more in the second half. When you don’t convert, it really hurts you.”
Cornell managed just 0.56 points per possession in the first half and improved only slightly in the second as Yale held them at bay in a 62-51 victory that wasn’t easy on the eye at Lee Amphitheater. The Big Red not only played without Hatter, but leading scorer Shonn Miller was limited to just 20 minutes – three in the second half (where he picked up three fouls) – before fouling out.
Meanwhile, Yale (19-7, 8-1) didn’t get much out of guards Jack Montague and Makai Mason, but did plenty to move to 8-1 in the Ivy, clinching its fifth straight winning conference season. But obviously the Bulldogs’ sights are set on bigger goals, starting with hosting Maodo Lo – who torched Brown for 33 points Friday night – and Columbia Saturday night in New Haven.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well today, especially from behind the arc,” Yale coach James Jones – who celebrated his 51st birthday Friday – said. “The fact that we got multiple, multiple offensive rebounds on a couple of possessions (16 in all, 44.4%) really helped. The first possession of the second half we had the ball for like a minute and 15 seconds before we got fouled. Javier Duren, Justin Sears, Armani Cotton, Greg Kelley all did a great job on the glass and that helps when you don’t shoot well.”
Here are my three thoughts from Payne Whitney Gym:
1. Yale’s depth was key - Jack Montague had made 14 of his last 22 three-point shots and entered Friday as a career 49.1% shooter from behind the arc, but he just didn’t have it against Cornell, missing his first four shots by a decent margin and finishing 2-10 from the field. Meanwhile, freshman Makai Mason was 5-6 from three last weekend at Princeton and Penn, but he spent most of the night in foul trouble. Up stepped senior Armani Cotton, whose stats won’t blow you away, but make no mistake, he’s been huge for Yale this season at both ends of the floor. He was a career 29% three-point shooter before this season, but has shown the ability to hit open shots when needed, doing it twice Friday and finishing with his second double-double, 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“What’s great about Armani is that he flies under the radar,” Jones said. “People don’t really understand how good a player he is and how much he does for us. It’s very hard to beat us when he gets what he has tonight.”
2. Offense-less Cornell - Galal Cancer tied a career-high with 19 points, but 14 came in the second half. In fact, Cancer and Devin Cherry had 14 each in the second half to account for 28 of Cornell’s 33 points. That’s not surprising, of course, with Miller limited to three minutes and Hatter out, so maybe it’s unfair to look at this game when assessing Cornell’s offensive woes.  Others have already this season, and Bill Courtney knows that’s an area his team will have to get better next season. A guy like sophomore David Onuorah would be a good place to start, he is a big defensive presence and has size that not too many guys in the Ivy have at 6’9” and a solid 230 pounds. But he’s only averaging 2.7 points per game for his career and has taken just 48 shots this season despite starting all 25 games. Saturday’s game won’t get too much notice, but they would like to win at Brown to get back to .500 and have a chance to finish there after going just 1-13 in the Ivy last season.
“They do such a great job of protecting the paint and us not being a great three-point shooting team, on some nights we may make some, but on most nights we don’t shoot it very well, and so we’re trying to attack the rim,” Courtney said. “But they have some big guys in there, so that definitely affected us. It’s tough to get to the rim against them.”
3. Five-game tournament - Friday went as expected as Cornell and Penn would have had trouble with Yale and Harvard, respectively, but neither was even at full strength (Tony Hicks was suspended for the weekend for Penn). With both teams now at 8-1, things get more interesting on Saturday with Princeton at Harvard  and Columbia at Yale. The Bulldogs are home again next weekend for Penn and Princeton while Harvard goes to Cornell and Columbia, before Yale makes its way to Lavietes Pavilion on Friday, March 6, the last weekend of the season (Yale finishes at Dartmouth while Harvard hosts Brown to end).
So, as Yogi Berra would say, it’s getting late early. It’s hard to see either team slipping up more than once heading into the final weekend, and – despite the way things looked heading into the Ivy campaign – it may take 13-1 to get the job done after all.
“I said to the team that it’s great to get a win when you don’t play your best,” Jones said. “We haven’t played that poorly offensively shooting the ball besides the half against Harvard (that they scored 11 points) probably all season. We’ve been pretty good. We didn’t move it enough, but those things are going to happen sometimes. We fought through the adversity, which was good to see.”

Bonus) Happy Birthday, Coach –
I asked Jones if there was birthday cake, and he said, “No time to celebrate now. We’ll celebrate on Sunday. Big game tomorrow against Columbia.” Life of a coach.

Yale 62, Cornell 51
This one seemed over a couple of light years before it actually ended, in no small part due to Cornell’s continued inability to shoot the basketball. The Big Red finished with a 32 percent clip from the field. Despite committing 16 turnovers, Yale was never in danger falling off. Senior guard Javier Duren led the way with 13 points and eight rebounds (all of which came in the first half), making him the second guard in six days to post eight rebounds in the first half against the Big Red after Harvard’s Saunders did it Saturday. The Bulldogs became the second Ivy to get to 8-1 in the conference play just after…

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Senior Galal Cancer tied his career high with 19 points and classmate Devin Cherry added 17, but Yale's dominance on the glass led the first-place Bulldogs to a 62-51 win on Friday evening at John J. Lee Amphitheater. Yale improved to 19-7 (8-1 Ivy), while the Big Red slipped to 12-13 (4-5 Ivy).

Yale held a dominant 46-26 edge on the backboards and limited the Big Red to 32 percent shooting, never allowing Cornell into the game after pulling away midway through the first half.

Cancer hit 6-of-9 shots from the floor and added three rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal, while Cherry added seven rebounds and two assists. Senior Shonn Miller had nine points, seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal despite being limited to 20 minutes while saddled with foul trouble.

Javier Duren had 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists to lead three double figure scorers. The other two, Justin Sears (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Armani Cotton (10 points, 11 rebounds), each recorded double-doubles.

A quiet first 10 minutes saw Yale pull away with consecutive 3-pointers by Cotton to turn a three-point, 15-12 Yale lead into a 21-12 advantage for the home team. In the span of 58 seconds, the Bulldogs had taken control. The Big Red never really recovered, only getting back to within seven points shortly before halftime (25-18).

The Bulldogs scored the first five points after halftime to extend the lead to double figures and would sit there for the final 16 minutes. Despite continuing to play solid defense, Cornell didn't have a run in it.

The Big Red will look for the season sweep of the Brown Bears when the two teams meet on Saturday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Pizzitola Sports Center in Providence, R.I.

The Yale men’s basketball team proved Friday night that it could win a tough game even without playing its best.
Despite posting more turnovers than in any other game this month, the Bulldogs managed to defeat the Cornell Big Red.
The Bulldogs (19–7, 8–1 Ivy) controlled the game against Cornell (12–13, 4–5) in a disjointed affair at John J. Lee Amphitheater Friday night. The game featured 44 foul calls and 27 turnovers, as the Elis kept pace atop the Ivy League standings with a 62–51 win.
“It’s great to get a win when you don’t play your best,” head coach James Jones said. “We haven’t played that poorly offensively, shooting the ball, besides that half at Harvard, probably all season … You’re going to have some off nights shooting the basketball, but the guys bounced back really well and played through the adversity and did what was necessary.”
The first half got off to a quick start when Yale scored the first bucket of the game on the team’s opening possession. Cornell briefly led in the early going, with a 7–6 advantage at the 15:42 mark, but the Bulldogs went on a 10–2 run over the next five-minute stretch, giving the Elis the lead for good.
The lead grew to 11 for Yale with 5:42 remaining in the half, but the Big Red cut the lead back to single digits by halftime. Cornell trailed 25–18 at the intermission despite nine points from Shonn Miller.
Although the Elis shot 42.3 percent from the field compared to 26.9 percent from the Big Red, Cornell stayed in the game due to Yale’s 11 first-half turnovers. Neither team was particularly successful from behind the arc. Cornell shot 22.2 percent from long range and Yale made 30.0 percent of its attempts.
“It was actually kind of our plan to rat the game a little bit, make it a little sloppy, hoping to force those guys into turnovers,” Cornell head coach Bill Courtney said.
Out of the break, the Bulldogs stayed relentless, and the lead quickly swelled to double digits again. Cornell did not help its own cause when Miller fouled out with 6:24 remaining in the game.
The Big Red did not give Yale’s frontcourt much trouble, as the Bulldogs dominated the glass, characterized by one possession during which the Elis grabbed four offensive rebounds and chewed nearly a minute and 15 seconds off the clock before finally heading to the line for free throws.
“We really push ourselves in practice, chase after the ball, and it’s really just about effort, regardless of your size, just how much determination you have to get the ball,” guard Armani Cotton ’15 said. “We do a really good job of competing in practice, and I think it also helps that we have a lot of big guards on the floor from time to time. It’s the culture of our team at this point, regardless of what size we have.”
Still, the Big Red managed to stay within striking distance thanks to the efforts of guards Galal Cancer and Devin Cherry, who scored 19 and 17, respectively, to lead the field of scorers. Cornell, however, never got closer than the final score of 62–51, coming up short as the Bulldogs defense kept the Big Red to 32.0 percent shooting from the field on the night.
Two Elis finished the night with double-doubles. Forward Justin Sears ’16 put up 12 points and 12 rebounds and Cotton contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds. Both players each had six offensive rebounds for the Bulldogs, which keyed the Yale win.
On the glass, the Bulldogs posted more rebounds than the Big Red by a significant margin, 46–26. Yale also controlled the paint, outscoring Cornell 28–18 within the key, and the Elis totaled 14 assists compared to just five for their opponents.
“We did an excellent job on the glass,” Jones said. “We didn’t shoot the ball great tonight, especially from the arc, and the fact that we got multiple, multiple offensive rebounds on a couple occasions really were helpful [in giving the team extra possessions].”
Yale will look to carry the momentum of the victory into its next game against Columbia at 7 p.m. at John J. Lee Amphitheater.

NEW HAVEN >> Yale goes through a rebounding drill at practice where a player has to grab three consecutive rebounds against his teammates. He has to keep going until he gets the three. It’s competitive, physical and wearing.
“The pit of death,” Bulldogs forward Armani Cotton calls it. “You don’t want to stay in there.”
The focus on the glass pays off for Yale. It showed Friday night.
The Bulldogs’ rebounding dominance made up for a poor shooting performance and fueled a 62-51 victory over Cornell at Lee Amphitheater. Yale outrebounded the Big Red 46-26 and won for the ninth time in 10 games.
“I thought we did an excellent job on the glass,” said Yale coach James Jones, whose team grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. “We didn’t shoot the ball great tonight, especially from the arc. The fact that we got multiple offensive rebounds on a couple occasions was really helpful. Guys chased down the loose balls.”
Strong rebounding has developed into a hallmark for the Bulldogs. They are the top team on the glass in the Ivy League this season. The length and athleticism of players like Cotton and Justin Sears, along with the size of a 6-foot-4 guard like Javier Duren, has been tough for opponents to overcome.
Going after loose balls on the offensive end led to one second-chance opportunity after another on Friday. There was one stretch in the second half where the Bulldogs grabbed five offensive rebounds on a single possession. That led to a pair of free throws for Cotton and an 18-point lead for the Bulldogs with 5 minutes left.
Shortly after, Cotton missed a foul shot, but dove on the floor, grabbed the ball and Yale called a timeout for another opportunity.
“They’re just so athletic,” Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. “They go after every rebound like it’s the last possession. James’ teams have been so good at that for years now. You have to give them a lot of credit for whatever they do in practice. I think they wear football helmets and pads and stuff. They just do a great job and they have players that are good at it.”
Sears had 12 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs (19-7, 8-1 Ivy). Cotton added 10 points and 11 rebounds while Duren chipped in with 13 points, eight boards and four assists in a game they led the majority of the way.
Rebounding offset an anemic shooting night for Yale. The Bulldogs couldn’t get into a rhythm and shot 43 percent from the field, including 5 of 20 from 3-point range.
Guard Galal Cancer had 19 points for Cornell (12-13, 4-5). Shonn Miller, the second-leading scorer in the conference, finished with just nine first-half points. He played 20 minutes because of foul trouble. The Big Red were also without second-leading scorer Robert Hatter (illness) on Friday.
“It’s great to get a win when we don’t play our best,” Jones said. “You’re going to have some off nights. But we bounced back well and played through the adversity.”
And controlling the glass certainly played a part in that.
“It’s really about effort,” Cotton said. “It’s the culture of the team at this point.”

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Yale didn't have its best night shooting the ball, but the Bulldogs did more than enough in other areas to earn an important 62-51 victory over Cornell at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
Yale (19-7, 8-1 Ivy) outrebounded the Big Red 46-26 and held Cornell to just 32 percent shooting from field.
Justin Sears (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Armani Cotton (10 points, 11 rebounds) both posted double-doubles, and Javier Duren added 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
The Bulldogs, who entered the night leading the Ivy League in three-point field goal percentage, were just 5-of-20 (25 percent) from beyond the arc.
"It's great to get a win when you don't play your best," said James Jones, The Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Men's Basketball.
The victory keeps Yale tied with Harvard for first place in the Ivy League. The Crimson beat Penn 69-46.
Despite the off night from the field, the Bulldogs were never seriously challenged. Yale led 25-18 at halftime, and the advantage was double digits virtually the entire second half. Cornell's only leads of the night were 5-4 and 7-6 in the early going.
Galal Cancer paced the Big Red (12-13, 4-5 Ivy) with 19 points and Devin Cherry added 17. Shonn Miller, who came into the game second in the league in scoring, finished with nine points, nearly seven below his average, before fouling out.
Yale's dominance on the glass was the difference. The 20-rebound margin was the Bulldogs' second largest of the season against a Division I opponent. They outrebounded Lafayette by 27 on Thanksgiving Eve. Yale, which leads the league in rebounding margin, is now 16-1 this season when it outrebounds its opponents.
"We do rebounding drills every day in practice so the guys understand the importance of it," Jones said.
Cotton reached double figures in rebounding for the third time this season. Six of his boards came at the offensive end. In all the Bulldogs had 16 offensive rebounds, which they turned into 12 second chance points.
"Rebounding isn't about size. It's about chasing the ball and effort," said Cotton, who posted his second double-double of the season.
Added Jones, "Armani flies under the radar. People don't understand how good he is, and what he does for us."
Yale also got a strong contribution from its bench, which outscored Cornell's reserves 15-3. Greg Kelley and Anthony Dallier each scored five points, Sam Downey had three, and Makai Mason chipped in two.
"When you guard us, you have to worry about everyone scoring, and that's what makes us good," Jones said.
The Bulldogs have now won five straight over Cornell.
Yale hosts Columbia on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Lions cruised to a 76-59 win over Brown on Friday night. The Bulldogs will be looking to reach 20 overall wins for the first time since 2001-02 and only the sixth time in school history.

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