BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Justin Sears wanted this one. In case any of his teammates didn’t believe him, he was pretty demonstrative about it, too.
Sears didn’t just carry and will Yale to a 93-77 win over Central Connecticut on Saturday by being all over the floor, whether it was scoring or rebounding, or even a big block in transition with under four minutes left. While he did all of that – 26 points on 10-17 shooting, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots – that wasn’t all. He implored his teammates to get him the ball, emphatically signaling for it and even looking at a teammate right after he scored.
He didn’t stop there, as head coach James Jones noted.
“Yeah, he didn’t like when I took him out for a bit, either, in the second half,” said the Yale mentor, who used that for a light moment later on that tells you about the player-coach relationship.
The sophomore can be that good. He could have played at a little higher level (though perhaps not the Big East or ACC), but he wanted the elite education he could get at an Ivy League school. And now that he is a sophomore, any deferring to upperclassmen that he did a year ago is clearly gone.
“Everyone on the team has times when they step up,” said Sears. “Today, I thought, was my time to step up when the team was down.”
Sears did a lot of his damage in the second half, posting a double-double in that frame alone with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He was often found near the basket even when a shot went, so it was clear he was hunting the ball, something Jones wanted him to do. As athletic as he is, he can get plenty of stickbacks if he’s in position, and he did just that.
As good as Sears can be, part of his continued growth will be knowing he doesn’t have to do everything, a point Jones both directly and subtly made after the game. The Bulldogs have good depth up front even though Jeremiah Kreisberg will miss the season with a back injury, as Brandon Sherrod has improved and Greg Kelley and Matt Townsend are good enough to start along with Sears.
On the perimeter, there’s talent but some questions, as Javier Duren (16 points, seven rebounds) and Armani Cotton (17 points on 4-5 shooting, six rebounds) had good games but neither is a true point guard. Duren is easily this team’s most important player, as the junior has a high ceiling but has been erratic as well. Thus far, he seems to be showing more of the former, and that’s what they’ll need.
“One of the great things about my team is that we have a lot of depth, and we don’t have to play everybody the entire half as much as they would like to play,” Jones said while looking at Sears and getting a smile out of him. “We can put some other guys in there to try to give them a little rest, and I thought that helped us.”
Sears trusts his teammates, but knows that has to manifest itself in many ways. It’s okay to want to win the game and do your part, and if defenses key on him he’ll be ready for what it means on his part.
“If someone doubles me, I’d rather see someone else score,” said the sophomore forward.
Yale had a size advantage on Central Connecticut, and took better advantage of it in the second half. They will probably have that on a number of teams they play this year, so what they did on Saturday is part of the formula for victory. Jones is also preaching to share the ball, and certainly this team will have to do that. They did that very well in the first half, where they had ten assists on 16 made field goals and shot 53.3 percent.
Yale won the game, which they wanted. Justin Sears certainly did, and delivered with his performance, and when the game was over he didn’t need to be quite as demonstrative about it. Indeed, he was simply happy with the win and ready for the next game.