Another Saturday night, another surprise: James Jones’ squad brings a level of defensive intensity previously unseen, while putting together a shooting performance for the ages. Yale outplayed Harvard for 40 minutes at Lavietes and now brings a share of the Ivy League lead back to New Haven at 5-1.
Meanwhile, a fan base that was calling for Jerome’s head one week ago will be a little quieter this week, as the Quakers rode a huge performance from Fran Dougherty to a big win over Columbia.
Elsewhere, Princeton and Brown salvaged splits against two teams destined for the bottom half.
Let’s get to the weekend’s big winners…
The Yale Bulldogs:
It’s been a long time since the sun was shining this brightly in New Haven. Allow me a moment to reflect, as this beautiful view from the top has not been witnessed by the Bulldog faithful this late in an Ivy season since 2007. On that day, yours truly was dodging the yellow-vested security guards at John J. Lee Amphitheatre, jumping up and down at mid-court with my fellow Dawg Pound members, and celebrating an upset win over 1st place Penn. Well, here we are seven years later and Yale has finally gotten another win that has patrons of Payne Whitney dreaming of reaching the promised land for the first time since 1962.
Justin Sears is putting together a season worthy of POY consideration, and if you didn’t know before Saturday, now you know. Sears went for 21 points and 11 rebounds, putting to rest any concerns about his free throw shooting with a clutch 9-10 performance at the line. His teammates–especially Armani Cotton– drew the Harvard defense with hard drives before dropping the ball off to Sears and letting him do the rest. Cotton also managed a double-double of his own with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Javier Duren came up with big shots in the clutch, including an “I’ll do it myself” bucket in the final minute when he blew by multiple Harvard defenders and hit a contested layup to put the game out of reach. Yale’s depth was on full display as Jack Montague played a season-high 21 effective minutes, Brandon Sherrod stuck his interior defensive assignment, and Greg Kelley made the most of his 4 minutes by sinking a big three.
The defensive focus was truly surprising–a far cry from the team that gave up 81 points at Mercer–and the gameplan for how to contain a usually dynamic Harvard team was executed superbly (though Rivard’s rare off night from deep certainly didn’t hurt). Yale was almost undone by 19 turnovers, but the energy on the defensive end was enough to counteract those extra Harvard possessions. Up next for Yale: a date with Penn at home next Friday. It’s like 2007 all over again.
Doc and the Quakers:
Who knows what to make of this Penn team? A week after getting swept by Dartmouth and Harvard, the Quakers survived a barnburner with Cornell on Friday and ruined Columbia’s weekend behind a huge night from Fran Dougherty. The senior went 8-8 from the field in the first half for 19 points, staking Penn to a lead that it wouldn’t relinquish. Columbia’s big men, Luke Petrasek and Cory Osetkowski, were held to 10 points and 1 rebound–combined. The Lions, who were without star guard Grant Mullins, trimmed the lead to six with 2:00 to play, but the Quakers held them scoreless the rest of the way. Henry Brooks and freshman Matt Howard each added eight points off the bench.
While Penn held the usually hot shooting Lions to 41% FG and 33% 3PT, the Quakers were also beneficiaries of some good fortune as Columbia faltered at the line, making only 12-21 FT. With the weekend sweep, Penn moves to 3-2 and, remarkably, can pull even with the 1st place Bulldogs in the loss column with a win at the Church in New Haven on Friday.
People Who Like a Competitive Ivy Race:
Every Ivy follower this side of the Housatonic– us included– feared that this season would lack the thrilling drama of past Ivy campaigns due to Harvard’s talent stockpile. And for what it’s worth, in all likelihood, we still won’t make it to the final weekend with much in doubt. But whether Crimson fans like it or not, Harvard is now the team that everyone else wants to see fall and with tonight’s slip-up, things just got a little more interesting. The Crimson go on the road for four straight now, including a game in their house of horrors– Jadwin Gymnasium– and the site of their worst loss last season– Levien. Even if the Crimson go 2-2 on this road trip, they’ll more than likely be in great shape when they look to avenge tonight’s loss at Yale on March 7th.
But we’ll worry about that later. Because for one night in February, there’s hope in New Haven; there’s optimism in Providence, and there are dreamers in West Philly.