The Yale men’s basketball team struggled early as Princeton’s balanced scoring pushed the Tigers ahead, but a dominant second half by the Bulldogs and a superstar performance from forward Justin Sears ’16 ensured a Yale win.
Yale (20–8, 9–2 Ivy) reached 20 wins in a season for the first time since 2001–02, which was also the last time the Bulldogs secured a share of the Ivy League title. The Elis also moved into a first-place tie with Harvard atop the conference standings following an 81–60 win against Princeton (12–14, 5–5).
The Elis and Tigers traded baskets and leads in a tightly contested first half that finished with the Bulldogs trailing 35–32 heading into the locker room. Every player that played more than five minutes for Princeton scored in the first half, and the balanced Tigers attack kept Yale on its toes.
For the Bulldogs, just four players saw their shots fall through the basket. In a familiar trend, Sears and point guard Javier Duren ’15 led the way with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
“The Columbia game, my confidence was a little low,” Sears said. “The coaches have just been stressing to me all year quick drives and everything, so I watched a few games from last year, what made me successful, and I just applied it to tonight’s game.”
Sears put the team on his back at the start of the second half, scoring the first seven Yale points. The Tigers continued to hit their shots and extended their lead to 47–39. But, less than seven minutes into the second half, Princeton also ran into foul trouble, putting the Bulldogs in the bonus early.
The Elis took advantage of their opportunities from the charity stripe, going on a 10–0 run that was powered by eight made free throws, with six coming from guard Makai Mason ’18. An alley-oop dunk from Mason to guard Khaliq Ghani ’16 capped the run and gave the Bulldogs the lead, 49–47.
The Tigers retook the lead a minute later, but it would be the last time that Princeton led during the game. Yale went on a 24–5 run over the next nine-minute stretch to take control and put the Tigers away.
“Some days the ball just doesn’t go in,” head coach James Jones said. “We hit some big one-and-ones that changed the game … What we did defensively, switching things up a little bit, and offensively, driving the ball and getting fouled, was really spectacular for us.”
In the second half, the Bulldogs scored 49 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field. The team finished the game having shot 53.2 percent from the floor as well as a season-high 92.9 percent from the free throw line, converting 26 of 28.
Sears was dominant, totaling 28 efficient points on 11–15 shooting and 12 rebounds. He added three steals, two blocks and two assists to his impressive stat line. Duren added 19 points, Ghani contributed 11 points and Mason also hit double figures with 10 points to go with six assists.
The Bulldogs will honor the team’s four seniors — Duren, guard Armani Cotton ’15, forward Matt Townsend ’15 and captain Greg Kelley ’15 — as Yale finishes its final home weekend against Penn tomorrow night at 7 p.m.