A 39-year title drought ended last night as the men’s basketball team claimed a share of the 2002 Ivy League championship.
With Princeton’s 64-48 loss to Pennsylvania, Yale (19-9, 11-3 Ivy) moved into the first three-way tie for the championship in league history, joining the Tigers and the Quakers atop the conference. Not only did the Penn win end nearly four decades of Eli frustration, it also highlighted the turnaround engineered by Yale head coach James Jones, who in three years has taken a cellar dweller to the league’s pinnacle.
“I didn’t set a timetable [but] I knew it was going to happen,” Jones said.
He quickly turned his thoughts to the two-game playoff that will determine the recipient of the Ivy League’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
“I feel like we have got some work to do,” Jones said.
Yale, Princeton and Penn all finished 11-3 in Ivy League play, forcing the first two-game playoff since the league formed in 1956. The Bulldogs must now prepare for a playoff date with Princeton Thursday night at the Palestra in Philadelphia.
Penn, by virtue of a 3-1 record versus the other two championship teams, receives a bye in the playoff situation. The winner of the Yale-Princeton matchup will play Penn Saturday at Lafayette College’s Kirby Sports Center in Easton, Pa. for the right to advance to the NCAA tournament.
For Yale, it was an unconventional way to clinch a league title — with the team assembled at the suburban home of a Yale basketball supporter in Orange, Conn., intently focused on the broadcast of the Penn-Princeton game. But it was the hard work and gritty efforts of the young Bulldog squad that put them in a position to be celebrating an Ancient Eight crown.
“Coach promised me one,” said captain Ime Archibong ’03, who came to Yale after the team had a 4-22 record in the ’98-99 season, the year before Jones took over. “It happened sooner than I really expected.”
As the buzzer sounded on the Penn victory, the crowd at the Palestra in Philadelphia rushed the court to celebrate the Quakers’ share of the Ivy League title. In Orange, the Yale team celebrated with equal intensity, albeit less numbers, as they navigated through a chair-packed den to congratulate each other.
“We are the Ivy League champs. We are the Ivy League champs,” Jones proclaimed to his team.
The team did not spend long celebrating in front of the TV. They headed straight to the John J. Lee Amphitheater where a crowd of about 30 administrators and students clad in white and blue “Yale Basketball 2002 Ivy champs” T-shirts watched the Bulldogs cut down the nets.
“We worked for this night. We deserve it,” said Edwin Draughan ’05, the team’s leading scorer.
Since Saturday night, when Yale concluded its regular season, the Bulldogs have known that Tuesday night’s game would determine their fate.
“When I woke up, I thought I was playing today — that was the feeling I had in my stomach,” center T.J. McHugh ’03 said.
The rest of the day was also hard to stomach for the Yale players.
“Today I was waiting for classes to hurry up and finish, for lunch to go by, for practice to go by,” Draughan said. “That was the slowest day I’ve ever had.”
The result was well worth it, but the Elis’ time to celebrate is short.
“It has been a rough year for me, but I couldn’t ask for anything more than this,” said backup point guard Chris Leanza ’03, who has struggled this year through a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for the entire first half of the season. “I just can’t wait to play. I am looking forward to Thursday.”