After a competitive first half to Ivy Madness saw Yale clinging to a three-point lead, the Bulldogs blew open their semifinal matchup against Cornell to secure a 20-point victory and a spot in the finals.
Photography Editor Tim Tai
PRINCETON — John Poulakidas ’25 loves Princeton’s Jadwin Gymnasium. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
Powered by a 25-point performance by Poulakidas, the Yale men’s basketball team (21–7, 10–4 Ivy) cruised to an 80–60 victory over Cornell University (17–11, 7–7) in the semifinals of Ivy Madness. They now await the result of the University of Pennsylvania (17–12, 9–5) vs Princeton University (19–8, 10–4) matchup to determine their opponent for tomorrow’s championship game.
The last time the Bulldogs were in Jadwin, Poulakidas’ career-high 30 points led a 19-point comeback against Princeton in the final 10 minutes.
“I guess these rims just found a way to like me,” Poulakidas joked after the game.
In the opening minutes, the fast-paced, heavily-pressing Cornell defense seemed to faze the Bulldogs, as the Big Red scored the game’s first five points. But the Bulldogs settled down, and a few minutes later, a Poulakidas three gave the Blue and White a 17–14 advantage with 10:53 remaining. With the lead in hand, the squad never looked back.
“We hunkered down on defense in the second and for the most part we did a really good job of finding teammates on offense and making other guys better,” head coach James Jones said. “There’s a lot of joy spread within the team when that happens. It’s fun to watch”
Yale amassed a nine-point lead towards the end of the first half, but a late Cornell scoring run cut the lead to just three by halftime, as the Big Red trailed 34–31 heading into the locker room.
Forward E.J Jarvis ‘23 got the second half started with a bang as he soared to the rim for an athletic and-one finish, and guard Bez Mbeng ’25 totaled six straight points off of fastbreak opportunities. Poulakidas drained his fourth three of the game to cap off a 12-point run, opening up a 44–31 lead in the first two minutes of the second period.
“We knew it was gonna be a dogfight with the way they play defense, which can be a little chaotic,” guard Mbeng said. “But we got in the huddle, talked about it and came together.”
Mbeng finished with 13 points while limiting Cornell’s Greg Dolan, an All-Ivy second team selection, to just nine points on 3-10 shooting. Yale guard August Mahoney ’24 scored 18 points on 4–6 shooting from the three point line.
Together, Mahoney and Poulakidas combined for 43 of Yale’s 80 points and went 10–13 from three point range.
“He’s just as confident in me making a three as I am in him,” Mahoney told the News. “We’re a lot harder to guard as a team when we both make shots, and each of us is a lot happier to see the other’s shots go in than our own.”
The Bulldogs’ strong second half, in which they outscored the Big Red 46–29, was spurred in large part by forward Matt Knowling ‘24, a unanimous first team All-Ivy selection who came off the bench after sitting out the last three games with an ankle injury. The Connecticut native was often double-teamed in the low post, and routinely kicked the ball out to the Blue and White’s three-point shooters, racking up six assists in the process.
Cornell coach Brian Earl had high praise for the Elis.
“They’re tough as nails and had a lot to do with us missing shots in the second half,” he said. “They built a wall and made it difficult for us to do what we like to do,” added Dolan.
With a win tomorrow, the Bulldogs would earn their third consecutive Ivy Madness title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“Job’s still not finished,” Poulakidas said.
Tomorrow’s game will tip off at 12:00 p.m and be aired live on ESPN2.