Winner Advances To Sunday's Championship Game
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Yale will be a part of history this weekend in Philadelphia when the inaugural Ivy League Tournament takes place at the famed Palestra. The Bulldogs are the third seed and face second-seeded Harvard on Saturday at 4 p.m. in the second semifinal. The winner advances to Sunday's noon championship game with the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Top-seeded Princeton faces No. 4 Penn in the other semifinal on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ESPNU has the television coverage of the semifinals, while the title game airs on ESPN2. Westwood One radio airs all three games.
James Jones, The Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of the Bulldogs and two-time Ivy League Coach of the Year, may have done the best job of his very successful tenure in guiding his young team on its path to the Palestra. First, Jones had to replace three starters, including two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears '16, from last year's team that captured the league crown with a 13-1 record and beat Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Then, one week before the start of the season, Makai Mason, last year's leading scorer, suffered a season-ending injury.
The Bulldogs quickly showed they were up for the challenge with a 98-90 win at Washington in the season opener. Yale also posted non-conference wins over Patriot League preseason favorite Lehigh and perennial postseason participant Albany.
In Ivy play, the Bulldogs won six of their first seven games and then closed the regular season by winning their final three, including a 90-63 thrashing of Cornell last Friday that clinched a spot in the tournament.
Jones's formula for success – rebounding, sharing the ball and defense – hasn't changed. The Bulldogs led the Ivy League in rebounding margin (+3.7) for the sixth straight season, averaged a league-best 16.0 assists per game and held their opponents to 43.1 percent from the field.
Contributions have come from a number of different sources. There are seven players averaging between 7.0 and 13.0 points. Five players have scored 20 points or more in at least one game, and seven different players have led the team in scoring in at least one game.
Seniors Anthony Dallier and Sam Downey are the team leaders. Dallier took over the point guard role after Mason's injury and has thrived. He is second in the league in assists (4.2 per game). Downey is shooting 56 percent from the field, which is second in the league, and is tied for second in rebounding (6.8 rpg.).
Yale has more wins (119) against Harvard than any other opponent. The first meeting between the teams was in 1901, a 41-16 Bulldog victory. The two teams are playing in the Palestra for the second time. Two years ago in an Ivy playoff after both teams finished 11-3 during the regular season, the Crimson edged the Bulldogs 53-51 in an epic contest that earned Harvard an NCAA Tournament berth. The outcome wasn't determined until a Javier Duren shot rimmed out in the final seconds. Harvard won both regular season meetings this year, although Yale led at the half in both games. Yale swept the season series last year.
Yale and Princeton have played two postseason games, including one at the Palestra. In 2002 following a three-way tie for first place, the Bulldogs beat the Tigers 76-60 in Philadelphia. In 1963 after a two-way tie, Princeton edged Yale 65-53 at Fordham behind 23 points from Bill Bradley. Overall, Princeton leads the series 148-87, including victories in both games this season.
After beating Princeton in 2002, the Bulldogs took on Penn for the right to go to the NCAA Tournament. The Quakers won 77-58 in the only postseason meeting between the teams. Yale had its nine-game winning streak against Penn snapped on Feb. 19 when the Quakers came into Lee Amphitheater and won 71-55. The Bulldogs have won the last five meetings with Penn at the Palestra. Overall the Quakers lead the series 147-79.
The Crimson (18-9, 10-4 Ivy) is playing its second straight game at the Palestra. Jackson Donahue's three-pointer with six seconds left lifted Penn to a 75-72 win last Saturday. A night earlier, Harvard fell at Princeton 73-69 when Amir Bell snapped a 69-69 tie with a driving layup with 1.1 seconds left. The Crimson's four Ivy losses came by a total of 11 points. Harvard led the league in field goal percentage defense, holding its opponents to .409 from the field. Three players average double figures in scoring for the Crimson – Bryce Aiken (14.0 ppg.), Seth Towns (12.4 ppg.) and Siyani Chambers (10.1 ppg.).
The Tigers (21-6, 14-0 Ivy) went undefeated in league play for the sixth time in program history and the first time since 2008. Princeton enters the weekend with the nation's second-longest winning streak at 17 games, trailing only Vermont (20). Steve Cook leads the team in scoring at 13.8 ppg. Devin Cannady (13.7 ppg.), Myles Stephens (11.9 ppg.) and Spencer Weisz (10.6 ppg.) also average double figures in scoring. The Tigers are the top three-point shooting team in the Ivy League at 38.4 percent.
The Quakers (13-14, 6-8 Ivy) clinched the fourth seed on the final night of the regular season by beating Harvard 75-72. Penn started Ivy play 0-6 before winning six of its final eight league games. AJ Brodeur leads the team in scoring (13.9 ppg.) and shares the team lead in rebounding (6.8 rpg.). Matt Howard (12.4 ppg.) and Ryan Betley (11.5 ppg.) also average double figures in scoring.
The Bulldogs are a perfect 10-0 this season when they commit fewer turnovers than their opponent. Yale also is 8-2 when making more three-pointers, 10-3 when leading at the half and 12-6 when winning the battle of the boards.
SUCCESS VS. HARVARD
Alex Copeland, Sam Downey and Trey Phills all fared well in the two regular season games against Harvard. Copeland scored 20 points in both games and shot 64 percent (16-of-25) from the field. Downey averaged a double-double (15 ppg., 12.5 rpg.), and Phills averaged 10.0 points.
Over the last three seasons, the Bulldogs have a 33-9 record in Ivy League games. They shared the 2014-15 Ivy title with Harvard and won the crown outright in 2015-16. Yale has now finished with a winning record in league play for seven straight seasons. In James Jones' tenure as head coach, the Bulldogs have finished with a .500 or better record in league play 16 times and have finished fourth or better in each of the last 17 years.
CLASS OF 2017 WINNINGEST IN MODERN HISTORY
JONES YALE'S ALL-TIME WINNINGEST IVY COACH
James Jones, the Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of the Bulldogs, is now Yale's all-time leader with 150 Ivy League victories. He began the year tied with Hall of Fame Coach Joe Vancisin, who won 141 league games in his 19 season. Jones' 150 Ivy coaching victories are third all-time in league history, trailing only Princeton's Pete Carril and Penn's Fran Dunphy. In addition, Jones' 271 overall wins are the third most by a coach in Ivy history.
HOME SWEET HOME
Yale had its 22-game home winning streak, which at the time was the fifth longest in the nation, ended by Harvard on Feb. 11. Over the last five seasons, the Bulldogs are 50-14 in the friendly confines of Lee Amphitheater. Yale went the entire calendar year of 2016 without losing a home game.
NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
The Bulldogs are seeking their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and fifth overall. Last year, Cinderella struck as Yale, seeded 12th, knocked off fifth-seeded Baylor 79-75 in front of a predominantly pro Yale crowd at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence. It was the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history. The Bulldogs were making their first appearance in the tournament since 1962 when they dropped a 92-82 heartbreaker to Wake Forest at the Palestra. That Demon Deacons squad featured future long-time college basketball analyst Billy Packer and went on to advance to the Final Four. In 1957, Yale lost 90-74 at Madison Square Garden to a North Carolina team that went on to win the national championship. The Bulldogs were led that year by John Lee, a two-time first team All-Ivy selection who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated that year. In the 1949 NCAA Tournament, Yale played two games, losing to Illinois 71-67 and then falling to Villanova 78-67. The legendary Tony Lavelli, a two-time consensus All-American who also was known for playing for the accordion, was the star of the Bulldogs.
Report filed by Tim Bennett (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity