Facing defeat in their first game of Ivy League play in front of a home crowd, the Bulldogs pulled through and answered the call against Brown to win 68-64.
The victory came despite trailing the Bears for more than 35 minutes of the game.
Down 54-47 after Brown’s guard, Matt Sullivan, hit a lay-up with 7:44 to play, Yale (11-4, 1-0 Ivy) initiated its comeback. Brown (5-12, 0-1 Ivy) continued to hold off the Elis and milk the clock until guard Austin Morgan ’13 knocked down a three to make it 61-58 with less than three minutes remaining.
Head coach James Jones then made the decision to switch captain and defensive-stopper Reggie Willhite ’12 onto Bear guard Sean McGonagill – with immediate results. Willhite stole possession from McGonagill and slammed the ball home on the breakaway to cut the deficit to one with just 1:42 left to play. Jones qualified Willhite’s steal, however, pointing out that McGonagill played all 40 minutes of the contest.
“One reason why [Willhite] gets the steal and takes the ball away is the kid played 40 minutes,” Jones said. “The kid was a little tired.”
The captain continued to take control of the game, again stripping McGonagill and nailing a jumper to give the Bulldogs a 62-61 advantage. The lead was Yale’s first since 17:26 in the first half.
Guard Mike Grace ’13 and Morgan converted all six of their free throws in the last minute to preserve the win.
Yale wilted under Brown’s three-point barrage in the first half but kept the game close, trailing only 38-31 at the break. Brown shot 60 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, led by McGonagill’s perfect three-for-three. McGonagill led all scorers with 16 first-half points.
Despite featuring a much smaller front-court – junior forward Andrew McCarthy was the tallest starter at 6’8” – the Bears dominated the Elis on the glass. Brown outrebounded Yale 15-10 before intermission.
Yale will travel to Brown for a rematch next Saturday Jan. 21.