The third time was the charm for the Yale men’s basketball team. After falling to Harvard twice in the regular season, the Bulldogs toppled the No.2-seed in a hard-fought battle in the semifinals of the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, taking them one step closer to a second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Yale (18–10, 9–5) led Harvard (18–10, 10–4) for all but two minutes of the game, though the final 10 minutes were a tug-of-war. The Elis showed poise down the stretch, with forwards Sam Downey ’17 and Jordan Bruner ’20 making critical plays down low and on the glass while guard Miye Oni ’20 hit several clutch shots late in the second half. The pair of freshmen scored a combined 29 points on the night while Downey continued his double-double streak against Harvard for the season. Yale got all it could handle in crunchtime from Crimson guard Bryce Aiken, who scored 28 on the night and has averaged over 25 per contest against Yale.
Yale jumped out to an eight-point lead heading into halftime at the Palestra. Guards Miye Oni ’20 and Alex Copeland ’19 led the way with 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Bulldogs had no trouble getting to the rim in the first 20 minutes, but six Crimson blocks kept Yale from expanding on its lead.
Harvard’s offense struggled throughout the half, making just 32 percent of its field goals. The Crimson created open looks throughout the half but failed to convert on them. Guard Bryce Aiken led the Crimson with eight points, despite missing large chunks of the half after picking up two quick fouls.
Free throws plagued Yale all night. Misses from the line prevented the Elis from putting Harvard away on several occasions. The Bulldogs went a meager 14–25 from the charity stripe in the contest, compared to 72.7 percent from Harvard.
Forward Sam Downey ’17 took over for Yale early in the second half, scoring nine points in the opening 10 minutes of the half. The senior finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
However, Aiken asserted himself down the stretch and scored 18 second-half points. The Elis seemed incapable of preventing him from slicing towards the basket during the crucial stretch of the second half and his brilliant shooting ability hurt Yale all night. Aiken led Harvard with 29 points.
The Ivy League Rookie of the year tied the game at 60 with a step-back three-pointer with under six to play in the game. The teams traded free throws, but four straight points by forward Jordan Bruner ’20 returned the lead to Yale.
Up just two with 1:31 to play, Oni drove to the basket and slammed the ball home while picking up a foul. The freshman hit the foul shot to give Yale a five point lead, although Aiken would answer with another three as the freshmen continued to duel it out.
Guard Trey Phills ’19 made just one of two free throws with 21 seconds to play to give Yale a 72–69 lead. Harvard had a chance to find Aiken one last time from beyond the arc, but Bruner jumped up using all of his 6-foot-9 frame to steal the pass. Bruner hit one free throw to ice the 73–71 victory.
The Bulldogs take on undefeated Princeton Sunday at 12 p.m.