Fresh off a resounding 69–54 victory over Penn, the Elis were unable to enjoy such an easy stroll to victory tonight.
Yale (13–9, 7–1 Ivy) played a stout brand of basketball against Penn (6–14, 3–3), winning in much the same manner that it did in the upset victory over Harvard last weekend: strong post defense, dominant rebounding and relentless interior offense.
Forward Justin Sears ’16 stuffed the stat sheet, compiling 25 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals. Guard Armani Cotton ’15 complemented Sears with a double-double, adding 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Tonight, however, was another story. In a turbulent home tilt against Princeton (14–7, 2–5), Yale came from behind before capturing the victory in its first overtime game of the season, outlasting the Tigers 66–65.
Both teams, coming off of action last night, started cold from the field. Princeton managed to build a 7–0 advantage before Yale finally scored nearly seven minutes into the game.
It was Cotton who stepped up, as Sears and guard Nick Victor ’16 had already been forced to sit with two early fouls. Cotton scored consecutive three-point plays on tough drives to the basket to bring Yale within one.
Forward Greg Kelley ’15 joined in on the action, burying a three from the top of the key before getting great post position down low and scoring off a beautiful find from guard Jack Montague ’16.
But playing at less than full strength, the Elis were not able to sustain their first-half lead. In large part due to 13 costly first-half turnovers, Yale let the Tigers take control.
Though Princeton was shooting an incredibly poor 2-for-18 from the field at one point in the first half, the Tigers began to find their groove late in the half and went into halftime on a 10–0 run that secured Princeton a comfortable 11-point lead.
Eleven proved to not be a wide enough margin for the Tigers.
Making up for a first half in which he played just six minutes, Sears immediately opened the second half with a jumper from the corner to cut the lead to single digits. Sears and Cotton would combine to score the next six points for the Elis, before Victor left his mark on the game.
With 15:51 to go, Victor was pure on his 3-point attempt, cutting the deficit to just four. Over the next five minutes, Victor scored six more points, highlighted by an emphatic put-back dunk that cut the lead to one and shook John J. Lee Amphitheater.
The Yale crowd — it was Alumni Day for Yale basketball — grew more and more rowdy as the game progressed, urging the Elis to victory. After the Victor dunk, the lead switched hands nine times in heart-stopping, back-and-forth action.
Princeton guard T.J. Bray led the charge for the Tigers, pouring in a game-high 20 points in addition to grabbing seven rebounds. Bray also accounted for seven of 10 Tiger turnovers.
The tide appeared to turn for good, however, during a scramble with just under five minutes to play. Victor had just received his fifth foul, forcing him to exit the game for good. Already shorthanded, a mad scramble for a loose ball not only resulted in Princeton maintaining possession but in a potentially crippling injury for Yale.
During the scrum, an opposing player landed on guard Javier Duren ’15. Limping noticeably and with seemingly permanent anguish on his face, Duren attempted to remain in the ball game.
Duren mustered about a minute and a half more of action before leaving the court with undisclosed knee and ankle injuries.
Guard Isiah Salafia ’14 relieved Duren of his duties. Soon after, Sears found forward Brandon Sherrod ’15 under the basket for an easy two that gave Yale its biggest lead of the second half, up five with just 1:09 to go.
Princeton responded with two free throws by Bray. On the ensuing possession, a critical turnover by Cotton where he dribbled the ball off his leg on an open breakaway, allowed the Tigers to square things up on a three-point play with just 29 seconds to go.
Yale got two looks at the basket at the end of regulation, but both were heavily contested. Without their playmaker and floor general, Duren, the Bulldogs were forced to try and win the game in overtime.
It was Sears who stepped up, despite some trouble at the free-throw line. Sears was just 4-for-8 from the charity stripe in overtime, with his final two misses compounded by two made free throws from Bray.
The foul shots by Bray gave the Tigers a three-point advantage — a huge lead relative to the tightly-contested nature of the game — with just 46 seconds to play.
Cotton answered Bray with two calm and composed free throws five seconds later and Yale was in need of a stop, still down by one.
Head coach James Jones instructed his players to pressure the Tigers full-court and he could have not asked for a better result. Bray attempted to lob a pass halfway down the court to a streaking Tiger but badly overthrew his intended receiver. The ball harmlessly caromed out of bounds, giving the Elis a chance to win with 32 seconds left and the shot clock off.
The Bulldogs were unable to find an opening, forcing Jones to call a timeout with 17 seconds to play. Yale drew up a play for Cotton, who finished the game 6-for-6 from the foul line, to drive to the basket.
When Cotton drove, he was met by a stifling defense that nearly caused him to cough up the ball. Instead, he found Salafia who swung it to guard Jesse Pritchard ’14, a three-point specialist, in the corner.
Pritchard’s shot was deflected and did not hit rim. Sure enough, it was Sears who was there to clean it up. After appearing to get hacked on his first put-back attempt, Sears secured another offensive rebound and got the layup to go with just 4.4 ticks remaining on the clock.
Having to take the ball the entire length of the court, the Tigers entrusted Bray, who did manage to make it end-to-end.
When he reached the paint, however, one fateful dribble bounced off his foot and rolled away. It was his final turnover, and also the final play of the game.
After pulling out the excruciating win in overtime without the full services of its starting point guard, Yale finds itself still in a tie atop the Ivy League with rival Harvard. The Crimson nearly fell out of the top spot last night, but the Crimson prevailed in a double-overtime thriller against Columbia.
The Elis will hit the road next weekend to play at Cornell (2–19, 1–6) on Friday and at Columbia (14–10, 3–4) on Sunday.