Updated: 1:16 a.m.
Last month, the Yale men’s basketball team saw Harvard come into its home gym and leave with a hard-fought win. But on Friday night, it was Yale’s turn to shine, waltzing into Lavietes Pavilion and clinching a share of the Ivy League title for the first time since 2002 with a 62–52 victory.
Yale (22–8, 11–2 Ivy) defeated Harvard (20–7, 10–3) in Cambridge for the second straight year, as a strong performance from behind the arc, as well as from point guard Javier Duren ’15, gave the Elis a decisive advantage.
“This year, I felt like we were the better team,” head coach James Jones said. “I felt good the whole time. Guys kept making plays, kept sharing the ball, and we kept getting stops.”
In the last meeting between the two teams on Feb. 7, the Bulldogs were hampered by a slow start that saw them shoot just 13.6 percent from the field and 0–6 from three-point range in the first half.
In another slow first half, the two teams traded leads five times, with neither team able to push ahead by more than five points. The Elis were hampered by foul trouble early, as Yale’s leading scorer, forward Justin Sears ’16, picked up two quick fouls, the second happening with 9:32 still left on the clock in the first half.
But Duren’s leadership helped overcome the loss of Sears. Duren led all scorers with nine points at the end of the first half, going toe-to-toe with Harvard guard Wesley Saunders, who finished the period with eight.
“I just wanted to be calm, not only for myself but also for my teammates,” Duren said. “Being a senior point guard, guys are looking for leadership, and I wanted to be that guy, especially with Justin in foul trouble. It’s so easy to not trust our offense, to get out of wack, so I wanted to be the guy that brought us together.”
Although sloppy play led to 10 turnovers from the Bulldogs before intermission, the team’s three point shooting, 4–9 from beyond the arc, put the Elis ahead 22–19 heading into the locker room.
The Bulldogs started out strong after halftime, using a 9–2 run to lead by 10 just over three minutes into the second half. Though the Elis would lead by as much as 12 with 14:22 remaining in the game, Harvard would not go away easily. The Crimson clawed its way back into the game behind a strong performance from forward Steve Moundou-Missi, who finished the game with 21 points.
With 3:40 on the clock, the Bulldogs led by just two points, but two straight jumpers by Duren and forward Matt Townsend ’15 put the Elis up by six with just 2:23 remaining in the game.
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Duren led the way for the Elis down the stretch, as he nailed a three and two free throws to put Yale up nine, 52–43, with 1:11 to play. Another layup by Moundou-Missi would cut that lead to seven with just a minute to play, but the Elis hit their free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
“[Yale is] a very balanced team,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. “That’s one of the keys, I think, that they bring to the table. They have weapons in all different spots and positions … Good teams have balance, and they are a very good team.”
The Bulldogs’ offense overcame a normally stingy Harvard defense to shoot 42.6 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from behind the arc. Even though Yale received zero points from guard Jack Montague ’16, the team’s most dangerous three-point shooter, the team received key minutes from forward Greg Kelley ’15 and guard Khaliq Ghani ’16.
Often forgotten in the midst of the team’s offense, the Elis’ defense was stifling and the Crimson struggled from deep, shooting just 2–17 from three and 32.7 percent from the floor. Yale also held Saunders, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, to 11 points.
“We have a really good unit of guys, and they play well together,” Jones said. “We mixed some stuff up in the first half that I think caused them some problems, and we were able to feed off of it a little bit in the second half. [We] played a little straight up man and got it done.”
Duren led the way with 22 points and nine rebounds for the Elis, including a perfect 8–8 from the charity stripe. Guard Armani Cotton ’15 added 14 points and five rebounds, three of which were on the offensive glass, and Sears scored 10 and had seven boards.
The Bulldogs finish off their Ivy League slate tomorrow night at Dartmouth, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. A victory would give Yale its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1962.