While the Yale men’s basketball team did not shoot particularly well, nor did the Bulldogs play an especially clean game, the Elis managed to come away with a historic upset over the University of Connecticut thanks to a game-winning three from guard Jack Montague ’16.
Yale (8–2, 0–0 Ivy) walked onto the home court of the defending NCAA national champions and exited with a thrilling 45-44 victory, its first over the Huskies (3–3, 0–0 American) since 1986.
“It is probably the greatest victory in the history of Yale basketball, I would suspect,” head coach James Jones said. “We just beat the reigning national champions on their home court, so certainly the best in my tenure if not in Yale history.”
Until the final 3.5 seconds of action, Yale had made just two of 20 attempts from the three-point range. Montague, who entered play as the most proficient three-point shooter in the Ivy League at 53.3 percent, had struggled against UConn, as he was 0-3 from deep and 0-6 from the field.
But facing a scenario with the Bulldogs trailing by two points and with one opportunity remaining to dethrone the champions, Montague received an inbounds pass from guard Javier Duren ’15 and jacked up a corner three as if it was a shot in practice.
When Montague’s dagger splashed through the net, Gampel Pavilion and its 9,538 attendees were immediately silenced, aside from a rowdy and boisterous Yale squad celebrating the cold-blooded strike.
Montague finished the night with three points, but he said there was little doubt they were the three most important points of his life.
“That is absolutely the number one memory of my career,” Montague said. “I really can’t believe it. It was like a dream come true, something I’ll probably never be able to do again.”
The odds appeared to be firmly stacked against Yale in its quest to match its best start since the 2011-12 season. The Huskies entered the game having won 68 straight games over in-state foes, and none of Yale’s players were born the last time the Bulldogs beat the Huskies.
But when Duren intercepted UConn’s prayer of a full-court entry pass with 1.7 seconds left on the clock, it was the Elis who were able to stake their claim as top dogs in Connecticut hoops.
Despite season lows in field goal percentage — 32.7 percent — and three-point percentage, the Bulldogs overcame those shooting woes by doing what they do best: rebounding the basketball.
“It wasn’t the greatest night of shooting for us,” Duren said. “But we did a heck of a job on defense, and especially on the glass as well.”
The Elis outrebounded the Huskies 36-25, with forward Justin Sears ’16 leading the way with a career-high 15 rebounds. The 6’ 8” forward more than doubled the total of UConn’s leading rebounder, seven-foot center Amida Brimah, who grabbed just seven boards.
The more stunning number, however, was the discrepancy on the offensive glass. Yale snatched 13 offensive rebounds — Sears had eight all by himself — while the Huskies managed a meager one offensive rebound.
“I’ve never seen it before in my life — one offensive rebound in a game,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said.
Sears added that those rebounds were important in giving the Bulldogs extra opportunities to score on the offensive end, which was key in what turned out to be a one-point game.
Although many who had not yet seen the Bulldogs play will consider it a shocking upset, Yale appeared to be the more solid team overall in Storrs tonight.
The Bulldogs broke open the game early on when four different Bulldogs contributed to a 12–0 run that gave Yale an 11-point edge. The Yale lead would top out at 13, as the Huskies saw virtually no contributions in the first half from two of their highly touted guards.
Backcourt mates Ryan Boatright, who entered the game averaging 20.8 points per game, and Rodney Purvis were both game-time decisions, but were ultimately declared active. However, the guards found little success attacking the basket, combining to shoot 0-7 from the floor for zero points in the first half.
“We knew the main option was Boatright, just coming off the ankle injury,” Sears said. “So we knew that in the half court, we needed to have a strong focus on where Boatright was all the time and change up the looks he got, and he had four turnovers because of that.”
Duren added that it was a good team defensive effort, with other players in good help position whenever Boatright had the ball.
Nevertheless, the Huskies closed the half on a 10-2 run to narrow the halftime deficit to five points.
Duren ensured the Bulldogs would not relinquish their momentum, continuing a positive trend of strong second half play from the Bulldogs, as he scored Yale’s first six points of the second period — part of a game-high 15 points for Duren — to keep Yale ahead. In fact, until a Boatright layup gave the Huskies a one-point lead with 7:01 to play, the Bulldogs had led for over 28 straight minutes.
Yale’s hopes for a monumental upset were seemingly put on hold, though, when the Huskies capitalized on a four-minute scoreless stretch by the Bulldogs to earn their largest lead of the game, four points, with 22 seconds to play.
Facing a two-possession deficit, Montague’s eventual heroics appeared to be out of the question. But after Sears knocked down two free throws and then fouled Boatright on the ensuing inbounds pass, Yale was still clinging on to a sliver of hope.
Entering play as an 82.5 percent free-throw shooter, Boatright was the man that the Huskies most wanted at the charity stripe.
But much to the dismay of the UConn faithful in attendance, Boatright missed long on the front end of the one-and-one and Sears grabbed the rebound. He quickly pushed the ball down the court.
After driving wildly into the paint, Sears lost the ball out of bounds with possession initially being awarded to UConn, only for the call to be overturned after video replay. At that point, the scene was set for Montague.
“We just reminded ourselves that we are just as good of a team, if not better than UConn,” Duren said. “We believed that we were going to win. And I think that our confidence definitely played a role in our win tonight.”
The scene has quickly become a nauseating one for UConn, as the Huskies lost on a practically identical play just days ago, when now-No. 6 Texas edged the defending champions by one on a three from the same exact spot on the court, with two seconds left to play.
While UConn is left reeling — the Huskies are only the second defending national champions to ever lose to an Ivy League squad (Princeton over UCLA in the 1996 NCAA tournament) — the Bulldogs have little time to celebrate their triumph.
Yale returns to action Monday night, traveling to the hostile environment of Gainesville to take on Florida, another Final Four participant from a year ago.