Last weekend, Yale’s season goal for an Ivy title looked to be slipping out of reach. But this weekend, the Bulldogs tightened their grip and got a hold of their season once more.
With less than three minutes to play Friday, Yale (15–5, 5–1 Ivy) scored the final 10 points to come from behind and defeat Penn 60–53. The Bulldogs followed the Penn win by holding off a Princeton rally to win 58–54. Coming into the weekend a half-game behind Penn, Yale is now second place in the Ivy League, trailing Harvard by one game.
Bulldogs head coach James Jones said defense was the key to the Elis’ success this weekend.
“I thought we got stagnant on offense a few times and took some ill-advised shots,” Jones said. “What’s anchored us all weekend is our defense.”
The Elis held the Quakers (12–10, 4–1 Ivy) to just 37.9 percent shooting from the floor and then limited the Tigers (11–10, 2–3 Ivy) to a measly 33.3 percent. Yale locked down key scorers on both teams such as Penn guard Tyler Bernardini and Princeton guard Douglas Davis, whom the Elis held to six points apiece. Both players are averaging more than 13 points per game for the season.
On Friday, captain Reggie Willhite ’12 came down with what might be the biggest rebound of the year, drove down the court and found a trailing Greg Mangano ’12 for a three that tied the ballgame at 53. Willhite next stole the ball from Quaker point guard Zack Rosen, and guard Austin Morgan ’13 cleaned up his miss and was awarded the basket on defensive goaltending. That was the last of seven lead changes in a highly contested game.
Yale then hit five free throws in the final minute, and Mangano got two offensive rebounds on the same possession to seal the victory.
Penn head coach Jerome Allen said he was disappointed in his team’s effort on the boards.
“Rebounding is a function of desire,” Allen said. “For us to give up 15 offensive rebounds and expect to win … we’ve got to be kidding ourselves.”
During the next evening against Princeton, the Bulldogs led for all but 4:40, yet the conclusion was far from assured. When the Tigers pulled to 53–51 with 1:08 remaining, the Elis showed great resolve to see out the victory.
Yale took control of the game with a 16–0 run lasting 9:05 after the Tigers took a 10–5 lead on center Brendan Connolly’s free throw.
The greatest surprise Saturday was the resurgence of center Jeremiah Kreisberg ’14. The man whose teammates call him “The Hebrew Hammer” had been struggling starting in the 72–71 loss to Wake Forest on Dec. 29, but he came alive with six first-half points, dished out two assists and took two charges on the defensive end.
“He looked like the old Jeremiah,” Jones said. “He’s been in a little haze, I guess, but he’s got out of it. I texted Jeremiah last night telling him that I had full confidence in him for the game today.”
Kreisberg finished with nine points, but Willhite was the star of the game. He filled the stat sheet with a 20-point, nine-rebound, three-assist, one-steal, one-block performance. Additionally, his electrifying jam with 11:41 remaining in the game energized both the Yale players and the fans at the Lee Amphitheater.
Mangano joined Willhite with 20 points Saturday to accompany his 12 rebounds. He also recorded a double-double against the Quakers Friday with a 23-point, 10-rebound performance.
The Bulldogs sojourn to New York next Friday to challenge Cornell in Ithaca Feb. 10. It will be just the Elis’ second away game in 42 days.
Joey Rosenberg contributed reporting.