Last weekend’s Pizzitola Center reversal closed the book on yet another Yale-Brown split, the sixth in nine straight years of Bulldog-Bear back-to-back conference openers. The main man responsible for turning the previous week’s result around for the Bears: the unstoppable Sean McGonagill whose hot hand (29 points on 8-11 FG, 7-9 3PT) singlehandedly stopped a late Yale run and iced the game for Bruno. In what might have been their most complete effort of the year, the home team looked organized, prepared, and sharp– assisting on 19 of 27 field goals, including five impressive dimes from big man Rafael Maia.
The offense functioned exactly the way Brown fans had hoped it would entering this season with freshman Tavon Blackmon doing a solid job handling duties at the point (7 assists), while McGonagill was allowed to focus on pouring in shots from every corner of the floor. Dockery Walker provided an energetic spark off the bench with 10 points on 5-6 shooting, and Steve Spieth was all over the court with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals.
Early in the first half, with McGonagill relegated to the bench with two ticky-tack fouls, Martin entrusted the game to his freshmen, putting four rookies on the floor. The Class of ’17 stepped up and extended the Brown lead from six to 18. The Bears maintained the comfortable advantage until late in the second half, when Yale finally managed to force several consecutive turnovers on defense and started pounding the ball into Justin Sears on every possession.
Then, the game-changing moment. With just over five minutes to play, a quick reversal found Yale’s Anthony Dallier open for three. While the shot didn’t fall, Dallier drew the three-shot foul and threatened to bring Old Blue within five. But the rookie froze at the line, clanking three straight to the delight of the sizable Brown student contingent behind the basket. On the next possession, Blackmon found a curling McGonagill who drained a three while being fouled himself. McGonagill nailed the freebie to convert the rare seven-point swing, and the rout was back on. Yale never got within single digits again.
As for the Bulldogs, a cold shooting performance compounded by porous first-half defense resulted in an unhappy ride home on 95 South. Outside of Sears, Javier Duren, and Armani Cotton, the Bulldogs seem to have very little in terms of offensive weaponry. Matt Townsend can knock down the occasional elbow jumper and Brandon Sherrod can crash the boards and finish second-chance points, but the Elis are very dependent on scoring from the Big Three. Through much of Saturday’s contest, the Bulldogs looked unorganized on offense, settling for contested jumpers or forcing it inside and taking off-balance attempts in the paint. Armani Cotton, Yale’s motor for much of the game, looked confident on the ball, but struggled to get his shot to go down. Only in the second half, once the game really slowed down with Sears exploiting one-on-one defense on the block, did the Bulldogs start to score consistently. And as it often does for this team, that scoring came the hard way–from the line. Yale shot a pathetic 19-38 from the stripe, leaving points on the court possession after possession.
Most unsettling for Yale though was the way they got burned yet again from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs now rank 349th of 351 D-I teams in opponents’ 3PT FG%, yielding a shocking 42.7% of opponents’ deep ball attempts. Brown is a great shooting team and Sean McGonagill had a night to remember, but this is Yale’s eighth time seeing the Brown star in four years. The Elis know you can’t give him space. Simple curls and screens were creating acres of space on the wings for McGonagill. Perimeter defense is now a glaring weakness for Yale and it’s only going to become more pressing of an issue this weekend as hot-shooting Columbia comes to John J. Lee.
While the traveling partners split, it’s Brown that enters the first true Ivy weekend with the momentum thanks to balanced scoring, promising contributions from the freshmen, and a senior leader in McGonagill who appears ready to do his best Zack Rosen impression.