In their final game at John J. Lee Amphitheater, the four seniors on the Yale men’s basketball team sealed an incredible overtime triumph over Dartmouth, thanks in large part to the heroics of a sophomore.
Point guard Makai Mason ’18, playing on an injured ankle, knocked down a crucial pull-up jump shot with 5.4 seconds remaining to force the game into overtime, where Yale (20–6, 11–1 Ivy) outlasted the Big Green (9–17, 3–9). The 76–71 victory moved Yale to 12–0 at home this season — its first undefeated home season since the opening of the Payne Whitney Gymnasium in 1932 — and 10–1 in the Ivy League.
“I was well aware that it’s been a long time for this team to go undefeated [at home],” Yale head coach James Jones said. “We talked about that in the locker room at halftime, having the chance to do something special. These are great guys and they have done an amazing job over the course of their four years. It is great to see them go out on such a high note.”
With the win, the Bulldogs are again a half-game ahead of Princeton in the conference standings with just two games remaining in the season. Princeton had pulled even at 10–1 in league play for a couple of hours, as its victory over Cornell concluded right around the tipoff of Yale’s thrilling victory, in which Mason played an essential role despite some pain.
Mason appeared to twist his ankle with about 9:00 remaining in the second half and his mobility was limited for the remainder of the contest. However, he did not exit the contest and wound up playing 40 minutes, tallying 16 points in that timespan.
Dartmouth played much of the extra period without forward Evan Boudreaux, the eight-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week who scored 10 points in the contest but fouled out with 3:39 remaining in overtime. The freshman’s absence affected the Big Green’s offensive flow, with Dartmouth failing to score for the first 3:07 of the final five minutes.
Boudreaux, often dealing with the physical play of forward Brandon Sherrod ’16, struggled from the floor. The freshman scored the first basket of the game but would not score again until he drained two free throws with 2:01 remaining in the half. He finished the evening 2–10 from the field, though he was 6–7 from the foul line.
“[Dartmouth’s] game plan is to get the ball inside to their two post guys,” Jones said. “I thought we did a great job on Boudreaux … He is one of the leaders in the league in scoring at around 17 points per game so we held him under his average. But I felt like we let Connor Boehm get some of the easiest shots that he has ever gotten.”
In the first half, Yale opened the game with hot shooting from guard Nick Victor ’16, who nailed two threes. Victor scored 15 points overall, though Boehm was also on-target in the first five minutes of the game, scoring eight points of his own on 4–4 shooting.
Shortly after a 14–0 run pushed Yale ahead by nine, Sears sent the fans at JLA into a frenzy when he slammed home a Victor miss with 5:08 left in the half. The put-back gave Yale a 26–19 advantage.
That play represented how the Bulldogs were able to seize control in the first half. Yale outrebounded Dartmouth 9–4 on the offensive glass, with Sears and forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 combining for six offensive rebounds alone. Consequently, the Elis outscored the Big Green 10–4 in second chance points.
Though Dartmouth shot 52.6 percent from the field in the first frame, significantly better than Yale’s 36.0 percent clip, the Elis made four three-pointers while the Big Green went 0–4 from deep. Yale also shot 9–10 from the charity stripe, as compared to 7–8 for Dartmouth, and the Bulldogs entered the locker room with a 31–27 edge at the half.
That lead slowly evaporated, as Yale struggled to find the basket at the beginning of the second half. A Boehm layup with 13:13 remaining in regulation gave Dartmouth its first lead since the 13:21 mark of the first half.
Dartmouth had built up its advantage to six points, its largest lead of the game, when Mason, who wound up just 4–18 from the floor, stumbled but was able to keep his dribble and create some space to make an off-balance three with 9:40 remaining in the half.
Although Mason missed his next three-pointer, an offensive rebound from Victor led to a layup that brought Yale within two and re-engaged the home crowd. The fans remained rowdy as Sears made a hook shot to tie the game with 7:33 on the clock.
With the game level at 52-apiece, Sherrod went on to score seven of Yale’s final nine points in regulation.
With 1:58 on the clock, Yale trailed 59–58 — the exact same score by which the team lost at Dartmouth in last year’s regular season finale. That loss prevented the Bulldogs from earning sole possession of the Ivy League championship.
Despite the superficial similarities, Jones denied seeing the “ghosts” of last season’s heartbreak.
With 0:40 remaining, Sherrod made a layup after being fouled. He converted the free throw to put the Bulldogs ahead by two.
But moments later, Dartmouth’s Miles Wright hit a three-pointer — just the team’s second of the night — and then forced a steal. Wright was fouled and missed one of his two free throws to keep Yale within two points, setting the stage for Mason.
Utilizing a space-creating screen from Sears, Mason knocked down an equalizer from the elbow with 5.4 seconds remaining.
“[I have taken that shot] probably hundreds of times, especially with my dad probably fouling me on the jumper,” said Mason, whose father coached him at Hotchkiss School.
Big Green guard Malik Gill was unable to get a clean look at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime.
Yale’s first five points in extra time came from the charity stripe. After Boudreaux picked up his fifth foul with 3:39 remaining, the Bulldogs stifled a Big Green offense that had been running through the freshman.
A huge slam from Sears with 0:46 on the clock punctuated the victory for Yale. Though Mason shot and made four more free throws, Dartmouth never got closer than three points over the final minute.
The win capped off a night of festivities for Yale’s veterans. Before the game, the four seniors were introduced alongside their families and honored at half court.
“Earlier in this morning, I was just sitting down before Dartmouth came for shootaround to just take it all in,” Sears said. “It is a great gym. I think I spent most of my Yale career in here, more time than in the library, class and probably even my bed. It’s a great place and I didn’t even know what to say. I just hope we can bring a championship back to JLA and have another number on the banner.”
The Elis finish off their Ivy League regular season next weekend at Cornell and Columbia.