In a day of upsets across the Ivy League, the Yale men’s basketball team staved off an inspired performance from Brown thanks to grit, late execution and some heroics.
Ultimately, it was a step-back jumper from the right wing with 3.4 seconds remaining on the clock by point guard Javier Duren ’15 that lifted the Elis to their 69–65 victory.
Yale (13–6, 2–0 Ivy) survived despite a woeful shooting display in the first half to avoid joining Harvard and Columbia as teams that suffered their first Ivy defeats Saturday. While the losses to those two programs now grooms a clear path to a potential Ivy title, it was never a sure thing that the Bulldogs would make it out of John J. Lee Amphitheater unscathed.
Yale received what appeared to be a pleasant surprise when warm-ups began, as Brown’s leading scorer, Leland King, was not with his teammates on the floor. The reason for his absence was not disclosed.
Nevertheless, once action began, it became clear that it would be a scratch-and-claw affair. Brown (9–10, 0–2), seeking revenge after an 80–62 defeat to the Bulldogs last Saturday on its home court, entered relying on forward Rafael Maia.
Maia, a Brazilian big man, demonstrated an ability to finish against the Elis in last week’s contest and opened up the scoring with an offensive board and put-back after two minutes of scoreless play.
Yale forward Justin Sears ’16 answered with three straight points, including a trip to the free-throw line that saw him split a pair. Coming off a subpar 7–16 effort from the charity stripe last week, his struggles persisted during Saturday’s first half. Sears got to the line 12 times but was only able to convert on four occasions.
The poor free throw shooting essentially characterized the first half, one full of blown whistles and blown shots. Each team shot 33 percent from the field in the first half, with the Bulldogs shooting 50 percent as a team from the foul line.
Additionally, there were 29 total fouls called in the first half alone. Yale averaged 19.2 free throw attempts per game entering action and ended up going to the line 22 times in the first half alone.
Poor shooting for the Elis was compounded by nine first-half turnovers — as many as they had all of last week’s matchup — and Brown overcame an early 11–4 hole to end up leading for the final 6:41 of the first half.
Entering the intermission, the Bears found themselves ahead 31–25 behind a half-high 10 points from Maia.
Brown managed to cling onto its advantage through the first media timeout and right up until a Duren three-pointer tied the game all up at 38 apiece with 13:07 to play, sparking an eruption from the crowd at Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
By the time forward Armani Cotton ’15 made a free throw at the 5:43 mark, Yale’s star players had completely transformed the game. Duren and Sears combined for 28 of Yale’s first 30 points of the second half, including a stretch of 26 straight that flipped a six-point deficit into a six-point advantage.
Cotton got his share of the action, however, as that free throw ignited eight consecutive points for the New York City native. Despite his strong play late, the Bears were able to score more consistently and fought their way back.
On one fast-break in particular, the entire dynamic of the game appeared to have changed due to one fateful decision. Up two with two minutes to play, Yale made a defensive stand as Duren stripped Brown guard Steven Spieth and proceeded to make a beeline towards the hoop.
With the crowd as rowdy as ever, in anticipation of the critical basket, Duren lifted and attempted to throw down a ferocious left-handed slam. When his hand met the rim, he found himself blocked by the cylinder as the ball clanked off back iron and led to a game-tying layup by the Bears, completing a four-point swing.
Cotton put the Elis back ahead, completing his streak of eight straight points, thanks to a hard drive and trip to the free-throw line, before the Bears answered once more. Demonstrating serious resiliency, the Bears tied the game at 63 when Maia again cleaned up on the offensive glass and converted for his 17th and 18th points of the game with 1:07 left in Brown’s bid for an upset.
Duren was unable to convert on a tough drive towards the basket on the ensuing possession, allowing Brown an opportunity to take the lead with less than 30 seconds left on the clock. Brown turned to Spieth who, despite shooting 2–12 from the field, salvaged his day with a 13–14 effort from the charity stripe.
Spieth’s three-point attempt from the top of the key missed long which set off a hectic chase for the loose ball, resulting in the 53rd of 54 total fouls called during the game as Sears earned a trip to the foul line.
Having shot 7–15 from the foul line at that point, Sears redeemed himself and calmly knocked down both free throws, only for Brown to respond yet again. Brown’s Tavon Blackmon hit a difficult floater from the baseline for the equalizer with 18 seconds to play.
With one timeout remaining, Yale opted to play it out, resulting in the eventual game-winner, Duren’s crossover step-back over the extended reach of Maia.
When Sears intercepted Brown’s Hail Mary inbounds pass and knocked down another pair from the foul line, Yale officially closed the door on Brown, completing the sweep.
The reward for Yale’s sweep is that the Elis now find themselves atop the Ivy League standings as the only 2–0 squad in the conference.
Things remain tough, however, as Yale is now set to enter the full grind that is the Ancient Eight schedule full of back-to-backs, when they travel to New York for matchups at Columbia on Friday and at Cornell on Saturday.