Of the 351 programs in Division I basketball, 348 of them played a home game before the Bulldogs did.
But after a weeklong trip to Shanghai for the Pac-12 China Game, more than 20,000 total miles travelled, five games and two power conference wins, Yale finally returned home to John J. Lee Amphitheater.
Playing their first game in New Haven since last season’s dramatic 94–90 overtime win against Princeton to conclude the regular season, the Bulldogs (4–2, 0–0 Ivy) defeated Lehigh (5–3, 0–0 Patriot) 97–87 on Wednesday night. Captain and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 contributed a second career double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing ten boards, while guards Trey Phills ’19 and Miye Oni ’20 each supplied 20 points. The win marked the third time Yale has scored more than 95 points in this season’s six games.
“What was great about this game is it’s a league game,” head coach James Jones said. “It’s like playing one of the teams in our league. I fully expect Lehigh to be one of the best teams in the Patriot League, and it’s like playing a top-half team in our league, which was great for us … for a time there, I didn’t think they were going to miss a shot.”
Indeed, the high-scoring affair got off to a rapid start — Yale and Lehigh combined for 21 points within the first three minutes of the game. Forward Jordan Bruner ’20 opened the onslaught with a straight-away three after freeing up space with a jab step, but the Mountain Hawks initially looked unstoppable. They converted their first six shots from the field, scoring all three attempts from deep and capitalizing on fastbreaks that followed long rebounds on missed three-point attempts from the Elis.
Lehigh maintained its hot streak throughout the half, going 59.4 percent from the field and 69.2 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Scoring 15 first-half points, guard Jordan Cohen led the way. A pull-up jump shot, which followed an impressive dribble move at the free throw line, was his only missed field goal in the half. Forward Pat Andree, who finished the game with 16, also performed well for Lehigh in the first half, hitting two threes and showing off a lethal hookshot.
Though Yale fell to an eight-point deficit when Mountain Hawk guard Marques Wilson drained a corner three with 10:24 left to play in the first half, three-pointers from guards Jalen Gabbidon ’21, Azar Swain ’21 and Phills allowed the Elis to keep pace. Phills scored 11 points in less than three minutes towards the end of the first half, including a three-ball that tied the game at 45 with just under three minutes left. He led the Bulldogs with 16 points at halftime.
“It was just a product of what the defense was giving us,” Phills said. “They were leaving me butt-naked open so I just had to get a couple [shots] up and they were falling so it felt good.”
The Mountain Hawks answered, however, as Yale found itself down two points with seconds left to go before the buzzer. Oni took the ball into the paint and got off a floater just before the clock expired to tie the game at 51–51 heading into the halftime break.
Second-half defense allowed Yale to steadily gain separation from Lehigh. Jones said that his staff decided to match up Phills on Cohen in the second half, which limited Cohen to just six points in the final 20 minutes. Lehigh’s shooting cooled significantly — its field goal percentage dropped to 34.3 and its three-point percentage fell to 31.6 in the second half.
Yale’s lead also expanded as the team began to dominate the glass. The Bulldogs grabbed 25 second-half boards compared to Lehigh’s 12. Behind five offensive rebounds from forward Paul Atkinson ’21, Yale scored 16 second-chance points. Reynolds notched eight total rebounds in the second half alone, and Bruner collected eight in the game. It was the first time the duo played a home game together since the 2016–17 season.
“I don’t remember the last time I got to play with Jordan at home,” Reynolds said. “Jordan’s a great-energy guy to have. He loves coming out here and playing in front of his friends and classmates, so it’s great having him down there. I feel like me and him feed off each other really well, play with each other really well.”
Though Lehigh hovered about five points behind Yale for much of the second half, stops on defense and smart shooting on offense propelled Yale forward. A three-point lead with 6:24 to play became an 11-point lead with 3:30 remaining.
As a seven-man rotation comprised of guard Alex Copeland ’19, Phills, Oni, Reynolds, Bruner, Atkinson and Swain seems to emerge, Yale’s breadth shined in the win. Six Bulldogs scored in double figures. And Gabbidon, who missed his entire first-year season with a broken foot, provided a spark off the bench in both halves.
“Jalen was tremendous tonight,” Jones said. “What’s interesting is that we have a bunch of other guys on the bench waiting their turn to do the same thing. We have a lot of depth on our team, and it’s great to be able to go to a bench and depend on the guys you put in … Every time I take one of these guys out, I want to put one of them in.”
Yale departs for Durham, N.C., early Friday morning to take on No. 3 Duke on Saturday. ESPN will televise the game, which tips off at 5:30 p.m.
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