One of the most successful basketball seasons in Yale history came to an end Tuesday night as the Bulldogs were drubbed by Tennessee Tech, 80-61, in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.
The largest home crowd in Yale basketball history – a sellout of 9,847 at the New Haven Coliseum – had little to cheer about as the Golden Eagles (27-6) grabbed the lead early and never trailed against the upstart Bulldogs (21-11). The loss ended an historic season for a Yale team that won the first postseason game in school history and claimed a share of the Ivy League title for the first time sine 1963.
“I’ll start to reflect on the season now,” said head coach James Jones, who does not have a senior on his roster. “This experience is just going to help us.”
After a 67-65 victory at Rutgers March 14 in the first round of the NIT, the Elis’ hopes for a second postseason victory were dashed early by a more athletic Golden Eagle team. The box score may not indicate it – Yale outscored Tech in the paint 36-34 and had 38 rebounds to Tech’s 39 – but it was Tennessee Tech’s strong interior play that was the difference in the game. South Carolina transfer Damien Kinloch led the Golden Eagles in the low block, scoring 15 points, hauling in 10 rebounds and blocking four shots.
With their outside shooting cold to start the game, the Golden Eagles turned eight offensive rebounds into 11 second-chance points as they built a 26-10 lead with just under seven minutes to play in the first half. For the game, the Golden Eagles had only 11 offensive rebounds – compared to 18 for Yale – but they made most of them count.
Defensively, the Tech big men blocked ten Eli shots – one reason why Yale shot only 35.8 percent from the field in the game.
“They were real athletic. They seemed to be flying at everything,” said Yale center T.J. McHugh ’03, who made five of ten shots en route to 12 points. “They were playing well on the interior.”
Yale got as close as nine points, 41-32, two and half minutes into the second half, but an 8-0 Golden Eagle run blew the game open for good. Six points in the spurt came from Cameron Crisp, who scored a career high 24 points.
“I don’t know if there were two better athletes we faced all year,” said Jones of Crisp and Kinloch. “They are very capable.”
For Yale, Matt Minoff ’04 scored 12 points and captain Ime Archibong ’03 had 10.
“Now that I think about the season, it was a wonderful, magnificent season,” Archibong said. “We were one of only 32 teams in the country that got to practice yesterday.”
Conscious of Yale’s accomplishments this season, the crowd that remained at the Coliseum gave the Elis an ovation as they walked off the floor.
For Archibong, that ovation marked the transition from his 7-20 freshman season to this year’s 21-11, Ivy League champion, NIT participant team.
“I’ll remember that until next year,” Archibong said.