Rarely can a basketball game be described as ugly, disjointed, enthralling and heroic all at once, but those terms only begin to paint the picture of the Yale men’s basketball team’s 69–65 victory over Brown on Saturday.
In the end, it was the typical plotline of the 2014–15 season — guard Javier Duren ’15 and forward Justin Sears ’16 leading the Elis — thanks to a pull-up jump shot from Duren with 3.7 seconds remaining.
“This team is very versatile,” head coach James Jones said. “We can win a bunch of different ways.”
With the game hanging in the balance — Yale led by two with less than two minutes to play — Duren stripped Brown guard Steven Spieth and began coasting to the rim on a wide-open fast-break.
Energized by the adrenaline of the moment, as well as the crowd of 1,736 at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, Duren rose up to slam home an emphatic dunk, only for the attempt to clang off the back iron of the rim and result in an easy bucket for Brown at the other end.
But mere moments later, in a tied contest and with the game clock seconds from expiring, a calm and composed Duren brought the ball up the court. The point guard crossed over his defender, stepped back and drained a game-winning jumper with 3.6 seconds left, clinching a season sweep of the Bears.
A week removed from methodically dissecting the Bears apart in Providence, the Bulldogs (13–6, 2–0 Ivy) appeared to have everything going for them as game-time approached. Yale learned just minutes before tipoff that Brown (9–10, 0–2) would be without its leading scorer, Leland King.
King — who averages 14.6 points per game and led the Bears with 18 points in the first meeting against the Elis — was noticeably absent from warm-ups, and Brown head coach Mike Martin later said that King stayed in Rhode Island for “personal reasons.”
“I think that was actually a benefit to their team,” Jones said. “I thought that [Martin] did a great job of rallying his guys around whatever issue was going on to play together and to play hard.”
With King out of the picture, Brown only managed to score four points up until the 11:16 mark of the first half. The issue for Yale was that the Bulldogs also struggled early on and could only build themselves a seven-point cushion.
In a game deprived of any offensive flow whatsoever, largely thanks to 54 total fouls, Brown managed to emerge at halftime with a 31–25 advantage.
For Yale, it was a minor miracle that it found itself only down six at the break. The Bulldogs made just six shots from the field, while turning over the ball on nine occasions. Just seven days prior, it took a full game for the Elis to turn the ball over nine times.
“What you forget about [playing teams two weekends in a row] is how hard it is offensively that next weekend because they just saw you and they pick up what you did,” Jones said.
Perhaps most worrisome for Yale was the continued struggles at the line in the first half for forward Sears. Coming off a 7–16 performance from the charity stripe last Saturday, Sears bricked his way to a 4–12 first half from the line.
After halftime, the Bulldogs, desperate for a comeback, turned to its two stars on the court, and the pair of Duren and Sears rose to the occasion.
While both players combined for a respectable 17 points in the first half, they were red-hot in the final 20 minutes.
Following a first half where Yale mustered 25 total points, Duren and Sears combined to score 32 points in the second half alone. During one 12:26 stretch, no other Yale player registered a single bucket as the inside-out combo rattled off 26 straight points to turn the six-point deficit into a six-point advantage.
“[Duren] is our leader on the floor offensively and he does a great job of making the right play,” Jones said. “Justin did a good job at getting himself in position to be successful, taking it up strong and finishing.”
In total, Yale’s dynamic duo registered 51 of the team’s 69 points, with Sears scoring 27 and Duren adding 24.
The most pleasant sight for the Elis faithful might have been Sears’s performance from the free-throw line, as he made all seven of his attempts in the second half, including four in the final 25 seconds.
“It’s like a weight off my shoulder,” Sears said. “It’s the easiest shot in the game so I knew I could make it down the stretch.”
Additionally, forward Armani Cotton ’15 emerged to play arguably as significant a role for a crucial stretch late in the contest.
Beginning at the 5:43 mark, when Cotton made one of two free throws for his first point of the game, he was the only member of the Elis to score until a pair of free throws by Sears with 25 seconds left.
Of Cotton’s eight consecutive points during that run, six of them put Yale in front in what was a back-and-forth contest.
As for Duren’s costly blunder on the dunk attempt, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Week ultimately had the last laugh thanks to his cold-blooded game-winner.
“I think I made up for it,” Duren said of his mistake.
Adding to the significance of the victory was that Yale staved off the upset on a day when its chief conference foes, Harvard and Columbia, each lost.
As the lone Ivy squad at 2–0 in league play, Yale will have to handle having a target on its collective back. The task this week will entail surviving a New York road trip, as the Elis will face off against Columbia on Friday and Cornell on Saturday.