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Bulldogs Set To Face Penn In Ivy League Tournament Semifinal

Alex Copeland (Steve Musco photo)
Alex Copeland (Steve Musco photo)

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Yale is playing its best basketball of the season at just the right time. The Bulldogs have won four straight and seven of their last eight games as they head to Philadelphia for the Ivy League Tournament. Yale, seeded third, meets No. 2 Penn on Saturday at 3 p.m. in the second semifinal. The game will be televised on ESPN2 with Mike Couzens and Dalen Cuff on the call, while Westwood One has the radio broadcast with Scott Graham and Kelly Tripucka.

No. 4 Cornell plays top-seeded Harvard in the first semifinal at 12:30 p.m. The championship game is Sunday at noon with the winner earning the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

It's been quite a journey to the tournament for the Bulldogs, who were picked to finish second in the league's official preseason poll back in October, but then lost All-Ivy candidate Jordan Bruner to a season-ending injury one week before the regular season opener, and a few days later, learned preseason Player of the Year Makai Mason was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the same foot that was injured a year earlier, forcing him to miss all of the 2016-17 season. Mason returned to play in one game this year – at Harvard – but suffered a setback the following week and has not returned.

Nevertheless, Yale persevered. The Bulldogs weathered a hectic and challenging non-conference schedule. Then it was on to Ivy League play where they dropped four of their first six league games. James Jones, The Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of the Bulldogs, though, never lost faith in his young team, and they responded. In the second to last weekend of the regular season, Yale went on the road and swept the difficult Cornell-Columbia weekend to clinch its spot in the post season. The Bulldogs then beat Penn and Princeton at home to keep the momentum building.

Unselfish play has been a trademark of this year's team. Yale has been among the national leaders in assists per game throughout the season. The Bulldogs lead the Ivy League at 16.7 assists per game and also are the league's top shooting team at 46.8 percent. Yale had 20 or more assists in four Ivy games and shot 50 percent or better six times.

Unanimous first team All-Ivy selection Miye Oni was the leader. He is one of only a handful of players in the nation to lead his team in scoring (15.5 ppg.), rebounding (6.1 rpg.) and assists (3.4 apg.). Oni, though, has had plenty of support. Junior Trey Phills, who was named second team All-Ivy, averaged 13.1 ppg. and 6.1 rpg. in league games after averaging 6.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in non-conference play. Alex Copeland (11.4 ppg.) and Blake Reynolds (10.7 ppg.) also have been consistent contributors. First year forward Paul Atkinson was thrust in to a larger role than expected due to the injury to Bruner, and he responded by leading the league in field goal percentage (.682) and earning three Ivy League Rookie of the Week selections.

Yale also got timely play from its bench. Senior Noah Yates, a walk on who joined the team at the start of his junior year after injuries derailed his Yale football career, hit perhaps the biggest shot of the season, a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left that gave the Bulldogs the lead for good at Cornell. Sophomore Eric Monroe and first years Azar Swain and Wyatt Yess also have been regulars in the rotation.

WHO'S HOT

Yale Shooters – During the four-game winning streak, the Bulldogs are shooting 49.4 percent from the field, 36.1 percent from three-point range and 84.1 percent from the foul line.

Miye Oni In his last four games, Oni is averaging 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists. The Bulldogs were 9-0 in Ivy games when Oni scored in double figures.

Trey Phills Phills quietly scored a career-high 24 points in Yale's victory over Penn during the last weekend.

Paul Atkinson Atkinson had 17 points in each of the victories over Penn and Princeton in the final weekend. His layup as time expired was the winning basket vs. the Quakers. In the two games vs. Penn this season, Atkinson averaged 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.

Alex Copeland From The Free Throw Line - Copeland hasn't missed a free throw since the home Dartmouth game on Jan. 27. He is 26-of-26 since then.

KEY STATS

The Bulldogs were 12-4 when leading at the half. They also won four games when trailing at halftime.

Yale was 10-4 when outrebounding its opponent.

The Bulldogs were 13-4 when they made more 3-pointers than their opponent.

Yale has made a school record 247 3-pointers.

HISTORY LESSONS

Yale has had success in the Palestra against Penn in recent years. The Bulldogs' five-game winning streak vs. the Quakers in the historic arena was snapped on Feb. 3 when Penn held off Yale 59-50. Overall, the Bulldogs have won 10 of the last 12 games with the Quakers. The most recent matchup was a thriller last Friday at Lee Amphitheater when Paul Atkinson's layup at the buzzer lifted Yale to an 80-79 win. Atkinson averaged 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in the two games this year with the Quakers. Trey Phills (15.5 ppg.) and Miye Oni (14.5 ppg.) also averaged double figures in scoring vs. Penn this year. Penn leads the all-time series 148-79. The first meeting was in 1897, a 32-10 Yale victory. That is believed to be the first basketball game that featured five players on each side.

HISTORY VS. THE FIELD

The Bulldogs swept the season series from Cornell, winning 74-65 at Lee Amphitheater and 82-80 in Ithaca. Four players – Miye Oni (15.0 ppg.), Trey Phills (13.5 ppg.), Noah Yates (12.5 ppg.) and Blake Reynolds (12.0 ppg.) – averaged double figures in scoring in the two games. Yale has won 11 straight overall against the Big Red and lead the all-time series 114-110.

Yale and Harvard have played 10 times in the last 3+ seasons and eight of the 10 have been decided by 10 points or less. Two of the meetings have come in the post season - Yale's 73-71 victory in the semifinal of last winter's inaugural Ivy League Tournament and Harvard's 53-51 victory in an Ivy playoff in 2015. The Crimson won both games this year during the regular season, 54-52 at Lee Amphitheater and 64-49 in Cambridge. Alex Copeland (9.0 ppg.) paced Yale vs. Harvard this year. Yale leads the all-time series 120-80. The 120 wins are the most for the Bulldogs against any opponent. The first meeting was in 1901, a 41-16 Yale victory.

IVY LEAGUE TOURNAMENT HISTORY

The Bulldogs were major players in the first Ivy Tournament last March. Yale came in as the No. 3 seed and beat No. 2 Harvard 73-71 in an epic semifinal. In the championship game against Princeton, the Bulldogs had the lead for a majority of the first half before the Tigers rallied for a 71-59 victory.

SCOUTING PENN

The Quakers (22-8) finished 12-2 in Ivy play, which earned them a tie with Harvard for the regular season title. The Crimson claimed the No. 1 seed by virtue of a tiebreaker. Penn is led by first team All-Ivy selection AJ Brodeur, who averaged 12.5 points and a team-best 6.9 rebounds. Ryan Betley (14.7 ppg.) leads the team in scoring, while Darnell Foreman (10.4 ppg.) and Caleb Wood (10.1 ppg.) also average double figures. The Quakers led the Ivy League in field goal percentage defense (.416) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.293). Penn was 7-0 during Ivy play at the Palestra and 11-3 overall.

SCOUTING THE FIELD

Harvard (17-12, 12-2 Ivy) has won eight of its last nine games entering the tournament. The Crimson features Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns, who leads the team in scoring (15.8 ppg.) and 3-pointers (59). Chris Lewis earned first team All-Ivy recognition after averaging 12.7 points and 5.5 rebounds, while leading the team with 46 blocked shots.

Cornell (12-15, 6-8 Ivy) also has a first team All-Ivy selection in Matt Morgan, who led the Ivy League in scoring at 22.6 ppg. Stone Gettings (17.0 ppg.) also is a proficient scorer. The Big Red clinched a berth in the tournament by winning two its last three games, including an 86-75 win at Dartmouth in the regular season finale.

CONSISTENT SUCCESS

The Bulldogs finished 9-5 in the regular season, the eighth straight year they have posted a winning record in league play. Yale also has secured a winning overall record for the fifth straight year. In addition, the Bulldogs have a remarkable streak of finishing in the top half of the Ivy League. Yale has placed fourth or better in 18 straight seasons. The last time the Bulldogs finished out of the top four was when they tied for fifth in 1999-2000, James Jones' first year as the head coach.

IVY LEAGUE TOURNAMENT TICKETS

Tickets for the tournament can be purchased by visiting IvyMadness.com/tickets. Yale's women's team also has qualified. The women are the No. 4 seed and play Princeton on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Report filed by Tim Bennett (timothy.bennett@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity