Until the final 30 seconds of the second half, the men’s basketball team dictated the action against Rutgers and had held the lead for the previous 22 minutes. But when the final buzzer eventually sounded, Yale found itself on the losing end of what could only be described as a heartbreaker, 72–71.
Yale (1–2, 0–0 Ivy) set out to make a statement in travelling to the raucous Rutgers Athletic Complex to face the Scarlet Knights (2–1, 0–0 AAC). While the Bulldogs could not seal the upset victory in Piscataway, N.J., they certainly sent a message to the rest of the Ivy League.
“We’re going to be pretty good,” forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 said in a message to the News. “It’s just tough to say that because we lost.”
After two free throws from guard Javier Duren ’15 put Yale ahead by six with just 1:46 remaining, a win appeared to be in the books for the Elis. But Rutgers forward J.J. Moore quickly responded, banging home two cold-blooded three-pointers to erase the Yale lead.
Yale responded quickly. The Bulldogs hurriedly inbounded the ball to guard Armani Cotton ’15, who was fouled after rushing the ball into the frontcourt. Cotton, who bounced back from a scoreless outing against UConn on Monday, buried two clutch free throws with 26 seconds to go to put Yale back in front.
On the ensuing possession, Rutgers benefitted from new NCAA rules concerning hand checking which have resulted in more whistles than ever. Yale forward Justin Sears ’16 bumped Rutgers forward Kadeem Jack under the basket, picking up his fifth foul of the game. Sears fouled out of the game, and Jack knocked down two free throws, putting the Scarlet Knights ahead for good at 72–71.
Yale would have a couple more opportunities. After Duren initially turned over the ball, Rutgers was called for a traveling violation with 2.6 seconds remaining as guard Myles Mack rolled on the court in possession of the ball. On the inbounds underneath the basket, Duren lobbed a pass to guard Nick Victor ’16, who was positioned in front of the rim. Victor caught the ball and shot it in one motion — his first and only shot of the game—but the effort clanked harmlessly off the rim.
Jones said such games full of adversity are the types that he wants his team to experience early in the season.
“We want to challenge ourselves and we want to be battle tested by the time the league starts,” head coach James Jones said in a message to the News.
Nevertheless, the Elis can take away a number of positives. The squad entered halftime trailing in each of their first two games, but went into the half at Rutgers up 37–34. Duren paced the Elis in scoring with a career-high 22 points.
With Sears, who entered play averaging 21.5 points per game, caught in early foul trouble, guard Jesse Pritchard ’14 provided major relief off the bench. The captain nailed all three of his three-point attempts in the first half.
Sherrod also stepped up in the first half of play, outperforming his season average of seven points per game by scoring eight in just the first half. He would finish with 10.
Duren capped off Yale’s first-half scoring with a remarkable and-one circus shot with 38 seconds left in the half, hanging in the air for what seemed like an eternity after a beautiful spin move. After Duren hit the free throw, Rutgers guard Myles Mack scored two of his 17 points to bring the Scarlet Knights to within three at the break.
Rutgers would get no closer for almost the entire second half. The lead was sustained in large part due to an improved second half effort from Sears. Playing near his hometown of Plainfield, N.J., Sears was able to slam home two breakaway dunks that seemed to give him some momentum.
Before fouling out of the game, Sears managed a 12-point performance, though his lone rebound was a far cry from the 11.5 he had been averaging. Sears said foul trouble and his attempts at avoiding over-the-back fouls made an impact on his lack of production.
“It [foul trouble] definitely played a role,” Sears said. “Usually I’m very aggressive going after the offensive boards … I felt that I had to take it a little bit easier, but it is what it is.”
Sears was not the only Bulldog who had a less-than-stellar day on the glass.
The Elis had a plus-11.5 rebounding margin entering last night’s tilt, only to be outrebounded by eight by the Scarlet Knights, who are not known for being a great rebounding team.
Jones said he attributed some of that to Sears being limited.
“Justin, our leading rebounder, got into foul trouble in the first half and never got into the flow on the glass,” Jones said in another message to the News. “He’s a huge difference maker for us.”
The Bulldogs will have some time off to lick their wounds before returning to action next week for their home opener.
Yale will tip off against Sacred Heart (0–2, 0–0 NEC) at Payne Whitney on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.