Yale men boosted by stellar on-ball defense from Mbeng

Yale coach James Jones called sophomore guard Bez Mbeng the best on-ball defender he’s ever coached. Mbeng played a critical role in Yale’s 70-63 win over Penn Saturday. (Photo by Erica Denhoff)

A few things had to go well for Yale to beat Penn last night at John J. Lee Amphitheater and keep its Ivy League title hopes alive.

They did.

Sophomore guard Bez Mbeng played lockdown defense on Penn’s dynamic Jordan Dingle in the second half, holding him to nine points after intermission en route to Yale’s 70-63 win over Penn.

”I love guarding the best player on the other team,” Mbeng said.

”Bez is the best on-ball defender I’ve ever coached,” Yale coach James Jones said, offering high praise in his 24th year at the Bulldogs’ helm after coaching other standout defenders like Trey Phills and Jalen Gabbidon. “He did a fantastic job in the second half on the league’s best offensive player and one of the best in the nation.”

Yale (13-6, 3-3 Ivy) had trailed 38-35 at the half. Penn (9-11, 2-4) had led for the entire first stanza.

Junior guard August Mahoney hit a trey to give Yale its first lead at 41-38.

The Elis needed offensive production from both Mahoney and John Poulakidas, who has been suffering from a lack of confidence in his shooting. Mahoney notched 17 points, many of them in a key stretch toward the end of the game.

“August was focused, determined he has many levels to his offensive game,” Jones said.

Poulakidas tallied only two points in the first half but added seven in the second.

The Elis had to keep both Dingle and fellow junior guard Clark Slajchert from going off offensively. Slajchert managed just seven points on 3-for-9 shooting and only one trey.

Senior forward EJ Jarvis posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Mbeng also scored 14.

Penn outshot Yale from the field, 46% to 39%.

Yale hosts Princeton on Saturday and Penn strangely plays Hartford for the second time this season Monday night. Yale was unsuccessful in attempts to schedule Hartford in its out-of-conference slate.

Former Penn assistant coach John Gallagher was Hartford’s head coach before resigning a day before the regular season began in November, saying the university had breached his contract and undermined the men’s basketball program. Gallagher said the university declined to provide a trainer to travel with the team to a preseason game at Dartmouth. Gallagher and the university reached a settlement on all outstanding legal issues, CTInsider reported in December. Hartford announced in 2021 it would transition from Division I to Division III, with active membership slated for no later than Sept. 1, 2025.

Penn can still get back in the Ivy tourney race, especially since six of its last eight Ivy games come at The Palestra.