The NCAA tournament may only be in the Sweet 16, but the Collegeinsider.com tournament is almost down to eight teams — and after a pair of down-to-the-wire victories, the Yale men’s basketball team is among that select crowd.
The Bulldogs (17–13, 9–5 Ivy) pulled off a miracle in their first round game against local rival Quinnipiac (20–12, 14–6 Metro Atlantic) when all-Ivy first team member Justin Sears ’16 banked home a game-winning three-pointer to beat the Bobcats 69–68. Just three days later, the Elis knocked off Holy Cross (20–14, 12–6 Patriot) 71–66 thanks to some late game heroics from Sears and forwards Armani Cotton ’15 and Brandon Sherrod ’15.
“Players make plays and, as a coach, you try to put your guys in positions to be successful,” head coach James Jones said. “Sometimes they do what you ask them to do, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight it worked out.”
Wednesday’s game concluded in thrilling fashion. Though students were off campus on spring break, the John J. Lee Amphitheater was rocking, and the Bulldogs looked hungry to exact revenge upon Quinnipiac for ending the hockey team’s season the week before. After a back-and-forth first half, the teams were all square at 32 apiece.
In the second half, a barrage of timely shots from long range kept the Bulldogs in the game despite a 44–34 rebounding disadvantage to the ’Cats. Following a 10–0 run for Quinnipiac, a pair of threes by guards Jack Montague ’16 and Jesse Pritchard ’14 sandwiched around a Bobcat layup cut the Yale deficit to a single point. And at the 3:30 mark, after Quinnipiac opened up its largest lead of the game at 63–57, guards Javier Duren ’15 and Montague each contributed buckets from downtown to tie it up at 63–63.
But no score was as important as Yale’s final three of the game. After a missed free throw by Sears and a missed layup by Cotton on the rebound, Quinnipiac guard Kasim Chandler came down with the board and was promptly fouled. He made just one of two free throws with eight seconds remaining, putting the Bobcats up two. Then came Sears’ big moment: With a help defender in the paint, he stepped back and nailed the three with 0.7 seconds on the clock, and he intercepted the ensuing Quinnipiac inbounds pass.
“The gods were looking down upon me and it went in,” Sears said.
The bucket, just Sears’ fourth made three-pointer of his entire career, could be a harbinger of the future, according to Jones, who said that becoming a good shooter from long range is the next step for Sears.
On Saturday, a strong second half propelled the Elis past Holy Cross. An 11–2 run just after intermission put Yale up 42–36, but the Crusaders fought back, keeping the game close and taking the lead on numerous occasions. With 1:43 remaining, a pair of free throws made it 66–65 Holy Cross.
But just over two weeks after the Bulldogs finished without a three-pointer against Harvard, it was Cotton to the rescue, nailing a shot from downtown at the 1:13 mark to take the lead for good. Blocks from Sears and Sherrod down the stretch helped seal the deal.
Yale’s next opponent on Wednesday is a familiar foe: Columbia, which beat Valparaiso and Eastern Michigan on its way to the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs and Lions split their two matchups on the year, with Yale winning 69–59 in January before losing 62–46 in New York in February. That loss was part of four losses in the Elis’ last five regular season games, a skid that was halted by the victory over Quinnipiac.
With the victory over Holy Cross, Jones became Yale’s all-time winningest coach, surpassing Joe Vancisin who piled up 206 wins from 1956 to 1975. The win also marked Yale’s third all-time postseason victory, with the sole win other than this year coming in the 2002 NIT against Rutgers.
Wednesday’s game tips off in New York City at 7 p.m.