Facing defeat in their first game of Ivy League play in front of a home crowd, the men’s basketball team pulled through and answered the call against Brown to win 68–64 — despite having trailed for more than 35 minutes of the game.
Down 54–47 after Brown’s guard, Matt Sullivan, hit a layup 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 on to covering Brown 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.
“They were playing not to lose and not necessarily to win,” Willhite said. “We weren’t going to get enough possessions in the game if we kept on letting them run the clock down and chuck up shots… I went for [the steal] and fortunately it worked out. I got a couple of steals, and we ended up winning the game.”
The captain continued to take control of the game, again stripping the ball from McGonagill — who played all 40 minutes for the Bears. Willhite drained a jumper from the elbow at the other end 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 had 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.
The Bears continued to hold the Bulldogs at bay for most of the second half. Jones said that he became worried about the outcome of the game.
“I can’t tell you that I thought we were going to pull this one out the whole time because I didn’t,” Jones said. “I thought that every time we made a run Brown had an answer. It took the last five minutes of the game for us to ratchet things up a little bit, especially on the defensive end and make some plays to give ourselves the opportunity to win.”
Since the Ivy League has no conference tournament, the regular season will decide the league champion and entrant in the NCAA Tournament in March. Center Jeremiah Kreisberg ’14 said that every game is important because the team’s goal is to win the Ivy League Championship.
The Elis last won a share of the Ivy crown with Princeton and Penn in 2002, but Penn advanced through the two-game playoff and earned the right to represent the Ancient Eight in the Tournament. Yale has not been the lone Ivy League champion since 1962, a drought of 49 years.
Yale will travel to Brown for a rematch next Saturday Jan. 21.