Neither postseason basketball nor the Collegeinsider.com Tournament are familiar sights for the Yale men’s basketball team. But in the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs met a familiar foe in Ivy rival Columbia — and thanks to a heroic second-half effort from point guard Javier Duren ’15, Yale emerged with a 72–69 win to advance to the CIT semifinals.
Though Yale and Columbia met twice in the regular season, with each team winning at its own home court, the Bulldogs played the second game without Duren, the team’s second-leading scorer. He had a sensational night against the Lions, putting up a career-high 33 points to go along with nine rebounds, including seven points to ice the game in the last 37 seconds.
“Tonight’s game was a tough matchup,” forward Justin Sears ’16 said. “Both teams were familiar with each other. We started off slow and we turned the ball over a lot. In the second half, [head] coach [James Jones] stressed moving the ball around and [said] we’ll get open shots. Jack [Montague ’16] was great, [forward Greg Kelley ’15] was great, and most importantly, Javier had a career night. We buckled down defensively and pulled out the W.”
In the first half, the Lions never found themselves trailing in large part due to their three-point shooting. Columbia made eight three-pointers in the first 20 minutes, while the Bulldogs had just 10 total field goals. After falling behind early, an 8–0 run helped Yale tie the game at 18 apiece, and the Elis responded to a shot from downtown when guard Armani Cotton ’15 grabbed an offensive rebound, made the putback and drew a foul.
From that point on, however, Columbia went on a 13–4 run to seize a 34–25 lead at halftime. The Bulldogs hurt themselves by committing nine turnovers.
But whatever Jones said to the Elis at halftime worked, because Yale opened the second half on a 12–0 run to erase the deficit and take its first lead of the game. Montague had three points and a pair of assists on threes to key the spurt. One of those baskets came from Duren, giving him three of his 26 second-half points.
“Coach challenged us at halftime to play ‘Bulldog basketball,’” Duren said. “We weren’t moving the ball on offense as much as we should, and we also had defensive breakdowns. We answered the call and got back to playing together as a team in the second half.”
The Lions fought back, with neither team holding a lead bigger than five points the rest of the way. Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo, who combined for 10 of Columbia’s 15 three-pointers, scored the Lions’ next 11 points of the game to bring them back up by three.
Every time the Lions took the lead, however, the Bulldogs responded. Kelley nailed a three with 10:27 left to cut the deficit to one, and after Rosenberg split a pair of free throws, Montague hit a deep bomb to re-take the lead, 48–47.
The teams traded buckets until the 4:00 mark, when Columbia’s Cory Ostenkowski made a layup to tie it up at 55. Cotton missed a corner three, but wrestled the offensive rebound away from a Lion player and put it back off the glass for two. At the end of a long Columbia possession, Duren poked the ball away from Rosenberg, took it up the length of the court and finished to extend Yale’s lead to four, an advantage the Bulldogs never relinquished.
“[Javier’s play] was phenomenal,” Sears said. “At the end of the regular season, he was coming off his ankle injury and wasn’t the same. [Now] he’s got his swagger back.”
Although Yale never trailed again, the last few minutes were fraught with tension. Rosenberg, who led the Lions in scoring all year, hit two free throws to make it a two-point game with 2:25 left. But Sears, who had 17 points, came through in the clutch, answering by catching the ball on the wing, cutting inside and hitting a layup through contact to draw the foul. After hitting the ensuing shot from the charity stripe, Yale led by five with 2:09 remaining.
In the final two minutes, Duren took over for the Bulldogs. He scored nine of Yale’s final 10 points, with none more important than the three points he had with 37 seconds remaining. Clinging to a one point lead, Duren was fouled and made his first shot. Though he missed his second, the rebound caromed off the back of the rim. Duren came down with the ball and was promptly fouled, and his next two free throw shots were pure.
“I don’t think it was necessarily a scoring mentality,” Duren said. “I wanted to be more aggressive and the way they were playing defense, it was easy to make the right decisions. Fortunately, I got on a roll and kept it going.”
Guard Steve Frankoski cut the lead to just one with a three-pointer with just five seconds remaining. Duren responded yet again, calmly sinking both free throws. Columbia’s final desperation heave bounced harmlessly against the backboard as Yale’s victory became official.
Yale’s semifinal opponent has not been announced yet, as the CIT waits until the prior round is over before announcing the next set of games. Though the Elis will likely face VMI or the winner of Towson-Murray State, several members of the team said they know where they want to play.
“A lot of the guys are hoping for San Diego,” Sears said. “We want to go to Cali for the warm weather. Whatever happens, we’re going to play hard.”
The semifinal matchup will be held on Tuesday, April 1. It will be televised on CBS Sports Network.