The Yale men’s basketball team’s first trip to the postseason in a decade was a short one.
Despite a 13-point lead at halftime, the Bulldogs fell to Fairfield University 68–56 in the first round of the Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) in Bridgeport, Conn. on Wednesday.
The Elis went into the CIT riding a two-game losing streak. A week and a half earlier, the Bulldogs were unable to undo an early 15-point deficit and fell 64–57 at Princeton (20–11, 10–4 Ivy) on Friday, March 2. The next evening Yale could not withstand an offensive barrage from Penn (20-12, 11-3 Ivy) and Ivy League Player of the Year guard Zack Rosen on the way to a 68–47 defeat that left Yale in fourth place in the Ancient Eight.
On Wednesday, eight Elis scored in the first half as Yale used a balanced attack to build a 39–26 advantage going into the break, but the Stags (20–14, 12-6 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) raced out of intermission on a 24–3 run to build a 50–42 lead.
“I just thought we played harder [than Yale],” Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson said. “With all due respect to Yale … I thought they were outworking us in the first half, [but] clearly we dug deeper.”
The Stags’ second half spurt began at the defensive end. Fairfield ground the Bulldogs’ attack to a halt, preventing Yale from registering a single assist after the break.
Fairfield had seven second-half steals. Stag guard Colin Nickerson led the string of larcenies, registering four in the second half on his way to a five-steal, 22-point performance.
“They were able to turn us over and turn it into points,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “That was the biggest problem we had in the second half.”
Jones added that playing much of the game without a true point guard hurt Yale. Starter Mike Grace ’13 was sidelined with an injury aggravated in the Princeton game, and Isaiah Salafia ’14 left the team earlier in the year for personal reasons. The only remaining true point guard on the roster, Javier Duren ’15, had played only 89 minutes all season prior to Wednesday’s contest.
The Bulldogs did not go softly into the good night, however: Forward and captain Reggie Willhite’s ’12 hit a layup with 1:06 remaining, cutting the deficit to 61–56. The Stags gave life to Yale by missing seven straight free throws down the stretch before draining their final five attempts from the line to seal the game.
In addition to being the last game of Yale’s 2011-’12 season, the loss was also the final game for the class of 2012.
“[My classmates] all had really good careers here,” center Greg Mangano ’12 said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s a tough way to go out.”
Mangano added that, as captain, Willhite was the leader of the team. Willhite was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and had two steals on Wednesday to increase his Yale single-season record to 65.
Willhite contributed 10 points, and Mangano led the Elis with 17 points and eight rebounds. The duo, which ranked first and second on the Bulldogs in scoring for the season, scored only 10 points in the final half of their careers with the Blue and White.
“[The seniors] did a great job leading us all year,” Jones said. “I thanked them for their efforts. It’s kind of difficult at this point to reflect on everything because it comes to a crashing halt: especially when we felt so good coming into the second half.”