Last December, the men’s basketball team needed a last-second dunk to defeat Hartford. The crowd at John J. Lee Amphitheater Tuesday night did not see quite as dramatic a finish, but Yale’s victory over the Hawks was no less intense.
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In a game as back-and-forth as an Ivy League conference game, the Bulldogs (3–3) topped Hartford (1–5) 81–76 behind the strength of 22 points from guard Austin Morgan ’13 and 19 points from forward Reggie Willhite ’12. The Elis have now won three of their last four games, with their only loss coming against No. 19 Illinois.
Yale started quickly. Behind two 3-pointers from Morgan and a 3-pointer and layup from Willhite, Yale took an 11–4 lead over the first four and a half minutes. Hartford fought back, though, and went on a 9–2 run to tie the game at 13. During the run, center Greg Mangano ’12 picked up his second personal foul and was forced to sit for 11 of the first half’s 20 minutes. The Bulldogs’ leading scorer finished the first half with zero points, a game after he scored a career-high 27 against Army. Willhite picked up the slack and scored 11 of his team’s next 23 points to give the Bulldogs a 36–30 lead at the half.
At halftime, Willhite had 17 points on five-of-six shooting from the field. Morgan contributed 12 points on four-of-four shooting from 3-point range. Hartford forward Anthony Minor led the Hawks with nine points. His teammate Milton Burton added six points and five rebounds.
“Willhite [went] three-for-three from three,” Hartford coach John Gallagher said. “You can talk to any Ivy League coach and that [ability] wasn’t there [last year].”
Yale came out storming, scoring eight straight points to start the second half. But as Hartford did throughout the game, it refused to give in, shrinking the gap to 46–44 Yale. Two Morgan free throws, two nearly identical layups from guard Jesse Pritchard ’14 and another Morgan 3-pointer extended the Eli lead to 55–46. Once again, however, Hartford made a comeback and narrowed the lead to one at 55–54 with 7:55 to play in the game.
After a two minutes of close basketball that saw Yale lead 61–59, Mangano scored eight of the Bulldogs next 10 points to give his team a 71–63 lead with 3:23 to go. Still, Hartford refused to back down.
“We are fighting every night,” Gallagher said. “We just want to make sure that people realize who we are.”
A foul by forward Rhett Anderson ’12 on the Hawks’ Joe Zeglinski’s 3-point attempt led to three points. Then, a Mangano layup was countered by another Zeglinski jumper. After Morgan converted two free throws, Hartford’s Clayton Brothers laid a ball in to shrink the gap to five. After being fouled on the ensuing possession, 91 percent free throw shooter Braswell could only convert one of two foul shots. Trailing 76–70 with 1:22 left, a Mustafaa Jones layup and a Zeglinski 3-pointer coupled with a missed Mangano layup put the pressure back on Yale, which led by just one.
“At the end of a game like that, it’s going to go one of two ways,” head coach James Jones said. “You’re going to stretch the lead out or they’re going to have a chance to climb back in. We were just not smart about decision making down the stretch. … The last layup that Greg missed — it probably would have been a better decision to pull it out and run some clock.”
Braswell sank two more free throws to extend the lead to three with 36 seconds to play. On the transition, Zeglinski drove into the lane and drew a foul on a layup attempt that just rolled off the rim. However, the Hawks’ leading scorer for the game could only make one of two free throws. The Elis inbounded the ball to Morgan, who was immediately fouled. The sophomore made one of two free throws to give the Bulldogs a three point lead with 20 seconds remaining. With one chance left, the Hawks turned to Zeglinski, who tried a three with four seconds left on the clock. The shot clanked off the rim and was grabbed by Mangano. The Hawks fouled in desperation with two seconds left, but Mangano was able to sink both free throws and give his team a 81–76 win.
Morgan finished as the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with 22 points and was a perfect five-for-five shooting from beyond the arc. Willhite finished with 19 points, a career high, on six-of-nine shooting.
“I had a lot of opportunities in the defense they were throwing at us,” Willhite said. “I just stepped up and hit a few shots and got down and penetrated and looked for Austin for threes.”
Braswell was the distributor on Tuesday, dishing a career-high eight assists and adding nine points. Mangano, who was held scoreless in the first half, scored 12 in the second half and grabbed six rebounds on the game.
“I feel like we have a lot of options on the team,” Willhite said. “I feel like whoever is making the shots that day is an option.”
Zeglinski, also held scoreless in the first half, bounced back to post 21 second-half points and eight rebounds. Burton contributed 13 points and five boards.
“I told him that I’m glad that I don’t have to see him anymore,” Jones said of Zeglinski. “He’s just a tremendous player.”
The Elis will go on the road to look for their fourth win at 1 p.m. Saturday against Vermont.