It seemed crazy. What was Yale coach James Jones thinking? No home game until Dec. 5. A trip to China to play a Pac-12 foe (California) and trips to perennial national powers Miami and Memphis.
The answer is simple. Jones wanted to prepare his talented team, strangely picked only third in the league by the media pundits, for the Ivy wars starting in January. He is fully aware that it is unlikely for two Ivy teams to secure NCAA bids, so why not play the best to ultimately be the best Ivy squad?
The Elis secured perhaps their biggest out-of-league win since the epic 2016 NCAA win over Baylor, by beating heavily favored Miami of the ACC Saturday, 77-73. Miami entered the game with the No. 30 KenPom ranking nationally, the second-highest ranking of a team beaten by Yale in the KenPom era going back to 2001-02 (topped only by the Baylor win). The Elis were down by 10 at the half and fell to a 56-41 deficit in the second half.
Then the two best players on the floor, both Elis in Miye Oni and Paul Atkinson, took over.
Yale outrebounded Miami, 26-14, in the second half. “We toughened up,” Oni said.
Oni finished with a career-high 29 points. Jones said that his junior star “was as good as he’s ever been for us. He played within himself and made great decisions.”
The sophomore Atkinson was playing near his West Palm Beach home and was amped up because of that. He posted 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
Junior Jordan Bruner got into early foul trouble, which put even more pressure on Atkinson to excel. Bruner still finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
Miami fell to 5-3 and Yale now sits at 3-2, a record that should probably 4-1 as the Elis basically played five against eight in a double overtime loss at Memphis as the unfortunate beneficiaries of some awful officiating.
Yale shot 51.7 percent from the field and won the battle of points in the paint, 44-36. The Hurricanes missed 15 of their last 17 shots, certainly due in part to the Yale defense.
The Elis finally play at home Wednesday to face a solid Lehigh team in the friendly confines of John J. Lee Amphitheater. Lehigh got thrashed at Miami, 83-62, in the Hurricanes’ season opener but handled Princeton easily at home last month.