On a night in which forward Justin Sears ’16 flirted with a quadruple-double and guard Jack Montague ’16 knocked down six three-pointers, it was the play of Makai Mason ’18 down the stretch that clinched the first 3–0 start since the 1950–51 season for the Yale men’s basketball team.
In the Bulldogs’ first tight contest of the season, Lehigh (0–3, 0–0 Patriot) cut what was once a 12-point Yale (3–0, 0–0 Ivy) lead to just three with 3:40 remaining. Mason then scored seven of Yale’s next nine points, part of an 11–0 run that catapulted Yale to a 79–67 victory.
“We are a veteran team and we kept letting each other know that we are up, and [there was] no need to panic, [because] we’ve controlled the whole game,” Montague said. “We are a very poised team with a lot of experience, so being able to push out the lead late was huge for us.”
Through Yale’s first two games against Fairfield and Sacred Heart, the Bulldogs held at least a 13-point edge for the final 10 minutes of each contest. Despite the brief scare in the second half against Lehigh, head coach James Jones’ squad remained in control for much of the contest thanks to multiple stellar individual performances.
Sears, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, filled the stat sheet in spectacular fashion, racking up 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and an astonishing eight blocked shots. As a team, the Bulldogs finished the game with 12 rejections.
“[Montague] is shooting the ball phenomenally, and Brandon [Sherrod ’16] is a strong finisher,” Sears said. “So all the extra attention I draw leaves easy looks for those guys since I can just drop it off for them [for assists].”
Montague, the team captain, led both teams in scoring, finishing with 21 points thanks to 6–9 shooting from behind the arc.
Coming off a season in which he led the Ivy League with a 43.5 percent mark from long distance, Montague has hit on 13 of his 23 attempts thus far in 2015–16, which translates to a 56.5 percent clip.
“Hitting a couple shots early really got me in rhythm, so I just kept shooting with confidence,” Montague said. “[Lehigh] went under a few screens and guys found me on the perimeter, and I just let it go. The rim felt extra wide tonight.”
Entering the halftime break, the Elis held a six-point advantage by a score of 36–28. Sears and Montague combined for 20 of Yale’s first-half points, while forward Sam Downey ’17 contributed seven points off the bench.
Downey capped the first 20 minutes in style, hitting his first career three-pointer at the buzzer to carry the Elis into the locker room on a 12–3 run after a back-and-forth first half.
Although the Elis ended up leading for all 20 minutes of the second half, Lehigh lingered within striking distance for much of the period.
Paced by a combined 39 points from the duo of guard Austin Price and center Tim Kempton, the Mountain Hawks made their strongest push for the win with a 9–4 run late in the second half.
Lehigh’s Kahron Ross capped the run with a layup to bring Lehigh within three points, 66–63, before Mason took over. The starting Yale point guard finished Thursday’s action with 12 points, nine of which came from the charity stripe.
“We put the ball in [Mason’s] hands and he did a great job of handling it [by] making the right plays,” Jones said. “He’s extremely quick and strong, so Lehigh had to foul him to try to stay in the game.”
In addition to Mason’s late spurt, Sherrod contributed four points during the final two minutes of the game, including slamming home a dunk with 1:26 to play on an assist from Montague. The play forced a Mountain Hawk timeout and extended the lead to a game-high 14 points.
Sherrod was the fourth Yale starter to reach double digits in the scoring column, accumulating 10 points to go along with seven rebounds. Yale’s fifth starter, guard Nick Victor ’16, added nine points in addition to his second-consecutive 11-rebound performance.
Victor led the Elis on the glass and keyed Yale’s 48–26 rebounding edge over the Mountain Hawks.
The win marked a positive beginning to a difficult stretch of road games for the Bulldogs over the next 10 days, during which the team will play Southern Methodist University, Duke and Albany.
Tipoff in Dallas on Sunday against SMU is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The Mustangs garnered 105 votes in the latest AP poll, placing them just outside the nation’s Top 25.