The men’s basketball team made history Thursday night, earning Yale’s first ever postseason victory with a 67-65 win at Rutgers in the first round of the NIT.
Four Bulldogs scored in double figures, Edwin Draughan ’05 keyed a second half comeback and Chris Leanza ’03 buried the Scarlet Knights with clutch 3-pointers as Yale (21-10) handed Rutgers (18-13) a rare home loss at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. The Elis’ gusty performance, which included 25 points from the bench, was enough to beat a Rutgers team that had knocked off four top 25 teams en route to a 15-1 home record.
Yale will take on the winner of Friday’s Tennessee Tech versus Dayton matchup in the NIT’s second round either March 18 or 19 at a location to be announced.
“It is kind of hard to think about [the history] right now,” said Yale head coach James Jones, who has taken Yale from a 4-22 team to a postseason winner in his three years at the helm in New Haven. “When I came off the court tonight, I didn’t know where the hell the locker room was I was so excited.”
With Yale ahead 67-65 and four seconds remaining in the game, Draughan — who scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half — stole Rutgers’ inbound pass to seal the win.
Only seconds earlier, Draughan had attempted to steal an inbound pass and was called for a foul, sending Rutgers to the free throw line to trim Yale’s six point lead, 65-59, with less than 30 seconds remaining.
Jones called his freshman shooting guard to the bench and told him, “That wasn’t the smartest thing you have ever done.”
“And he agreed with me,” Jones said.
But that did not stop Draughan from trying it again, and the second time proved successful. Draughan stole the ball, and jubilantly jumped in the air as the buzzer sounded signaling the Eli victory.
“It is just an amazing feeling,” said Draughan, who had been heavily recruited by Rutgers out of high school. “To be a part of history — no one can take that away from us.”
Trailing 44-43 with 10:46 seconds left, Draughan spurred a 9-0 Yale run over the next three minutes that gave the Elis the advantage for good. He started the spurt by swishing a 19-foot jumper from the top of the key to give Yale a 45-44 lead. On the defensive end, Draughan, who had a career high five steals, forced a Rutgers turnover and converted on the other end with a layup in transition.
After another Eli steal, Leanza drained the first of his three 3-pointers on the night to give Yale a 50-44 lead. Two free throws by T.J. McHugh ’02 gave Yale its largest lead of the contest, 52-44.
The Scarlet Knights went on a 6-2 run to narrow the score to 54-50 as the crowd of 5,328 rose to its feet. Leanza had the answer though, drilling a baseline 3-pointer to quiet the fans and give Yale a 57-50 lead.
The crowd erupted again when Rutgers pulled to within 57-53, but Leanza again proved to be the silencer, knocking down another triple that quieted the crowd and gave Yale a 60-53 lead with 2:11 left. The Bulldogs made enough of their free throws down the stretch to hold off the Scarlet Knights.
“You dream about getting shots like that,” said Leanza, an Honorable Mention All-Ivy player last season. He missed the team’s first 14 games rehabilitating an off-season shoulder surgery.
“Could he just make a shot for me, just one,” Jones said he thought to himself before the game, harkening back to Leanza’s clutch performances of a year ago. “He stepped up and had a big impact.”
Leanza tied a season-high with 11 points. McHugh chipped in 12 points and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Alex Gamboa had 10 to join Draughan and Leanza in double figures.
The Bulldogs shot 45.5 percent from the field as a team, while holding Rutgers to 42.1 percent. The Scarlet Knights shot a torrid 53.8 percent in the first half as they built a 33-29 lead, but Yale came out in a 2-3 zone in the second half that held them to a mere 32.3 percent.
“Not many people can come and outplay us in our gym, and they outplayed us tonight,” Rutgers head coach Gary Waters said. “It was a hard defeat to take.”
Waters said his team may have taken Yale lightly. He said when he told one of his players in practice this week to take this game seriously, he responded, “Coach, it’s Yale.”
“We weren’t mentally ready to play that game,” Waters said.
The Bulldogs entire roster was ready to play. The Yale bench outscored the Rutgers bench 25-4.
“I told [the team] before the game that I did not want to stop coaching this year,” Jones said. “We don’t want to stop playing.”