Lukas Flippo (in-line by Flippo, Akshar Agarwal, Zheng Zhang, and McCormack)

With just under three minutes to play Friday night at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, Penn senior guard Devon Goodman dribbled to his left with the shot clock winding down, straying Yale captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 within the three-point arc before stepping back to swish a triple.

The shot, his sixth three of the game, gave the Quakers a 73–63 lead, and when Yale’s next possession featured two botched field goal attempts and a missed free throw, the Bulldogs’ chances appeared bleak. But then, with 1:38 to go, something clicked — the Elis had activated their full-court press a possession before, and a steal from guard Jalen Gabbidon ’21 ignited a finish that included all the ingredients of a good Ivy League drama. Loose balls. Bodies hitting the floor. Fans flying to their feet. Prolonged official reviews.

Possession by possession, Yale (21–6, 9–2 Ivy) crept back, quietly at first — Gabbidon’s two free throws to make it 73–65 drew mild applause from the 2,106 spectators at JLA — and then loudly, at an almost ear-shattering volume, as forwards Paul Atkinson ’21, Jordan Bruner ’20 and Gabbidon transformed Penn (13–11, 5–6) turnovers into finishes at the rim. The Elis ultimately ended the game on a 13–0 run, forcing seven Quaker turnovers and collecting six steals with a full-court press that was practically impenetrable. A 76–73 win marked the culmination of all the chaos, officially clinching the Bulldogs a berth at Ivy Madness.

 

“You could tell [our guys] wanted the win and they believed that they could,” head coach James Jones said. “Jalen Gabbidon was all over the place. Deflections. Guys diving on the ground for loose balls. Everything you want. We had to create havoc and we did… It’s hard to believe all the crazy things that happened. If you go over through this game and see all the things we had to do to be successful, it’s nothing short of a miracle.”

The 15 steals Yale accumulated Friday was a season-high, and Gabbidon himself accounted for five, a career-high. The Bulldogs received defensive contributions from everywhere in the final minute and a half. Guard Azar Swain ’21 joined a scrum at center court, diving on top of a loose ball before finding Atkinson for a layup to make it 73–70. After Penn inbounded the ball, Bruner scooped up a steal that Gabbidon helped force, immediately sinking two free throws after getting fouled to cut Penn’s lead to one with 51 seconds to play. 

Monroe, meanwhile, registered a block on Penn forward AJ Brodeur with 35 seconds left, preventing the senior from scoring any more than his game-high 25. Officials originally ruled possession in favor of Penn after the ball fell out of bounds, but a lengthy video review reversed the call, giving Yale the rock.

 

During the postgame press conference, Jones offered the guard a fist bump when he was asked about the play. “Get that weak stuff outta here,” he whispered to his senior captain as Monroe prepared to answer.

“I’m not really a shot blocker,” the 6-foot-2 guard said. “That’s not what I’m known for. When I saw the ball going over my head, it was desperation mode. I was like, ‘I just got to make a play, I gotta try to do something,’ and it worked out… I kind of peeked at the video [during the review] and I was like, ‘It’s off him.’ It was pretty clear.”

Monroe played a key role in igniting scoring during the run as well, pulling up to hit a three-pointer after Gabbidon converted his initial free throws. The captain, playing in his second to last home game, sunk a career-high four triples, including three that fell in the second half.

After Bruner and Gabbidon robbed the ball from guard Ryan Betley off the inbounds, the Yale senior elevated for the dunk, giving Yale its first lead, 74–73, in almost 13 minutes. Another poke from Gabbidon sent the ball rattling around Monroe, Swain and Bruner before Gabbidon streaked ahead on the fast break, finishing a game-sealing two-handed dunk as JLA shook.

 

Atkinson, who led Yale with 18 points, said the full-court press comes up every other practice.

“We don’t practice the full-court press a lot, but it just came down to us wanting to play defense and wanting to win the game,” he added.

The epic finish capped an evening at JLA that already offered postseason flavor. Lance Medow and NCAA.com college basketball correspondent Andy Katz nationally broadcast the game on Westwood One Radio, the baseline featured dueling battles between the Yale and Penn student bands and the ESPN+ production crew even featured an additional sideline reporter, Kayla Burton, who interviewed Jones on his trip to the locker room for halftime.

 

For Penn and its talented senior duo of Goodman and Brodeur, the game was practically a playoff contest. The Quakers entered the weekend fifth in the Ancient Eight, where they remain after Princeton defeated Brown in Providence Friday. Although the Elis jumped to an early 6–0 lead, the Quakers’ fight was evident early. 

Goodman took over for his side in the first, hitting two three-pointers early on and finishing the frame with four from deep. He did not miss a shot in the first half, scoring 17 points on six (successful) attempts.

Penn, which started the game shooting nine-of-13 from beyond the arc, extended its lead to a dozen with about four minutes remaining in the first. The 12-point advantage marked their largest of the night, as successful conversions from Monroe, guard August Mahoney ’23 and Atkinson sent Yale into halftime within single digits. The Quakers led 46–39 at the break.

 

“[Goodman] was brilliant tonight,” Jones said. “He’s a senior. AJ Brodeur’s a senior. They really wanted an opportunity to get to the Ivy League Tournament and their hopes are still alive… We just wanted to play more like we’re capable of [in the second half] and make it harder for him to do the things that he’s really good at. Just getting over the ball screens and being able to guard him is really key for us. We’ve struggled a little bit as of late in that and especially in the first half, and we did a better job of having energy and doing it. You could tell when the second half started that we were going to be a better defensive team.”

The Quakers started the half one-for-six, and instead the Bulldogs found their stroke. Swain and Monroe each hit triples in the first four minutes. A few minutes later, Monroe pulled up for another on the fast break, a smile on his face as he jogged back to play defense with a 53–52 lead, Yale’s first since the 13:54 mark in the first half.

Bruner’s dunk in the full-court press would give Yale its next lead with 13 seconds to play. It would be the only one that mattered. Fittingly, Gabbidon ended the 13–0 run as he began it, leaping to intercept a half-court pass for another — and final — steal with a second on the clock.

 

“It’s been a really special season for our team,” Monroe said. “Obviously we’re not satisfied with anything yet, but just personally being able to go out there at all of our home games and just play and play free has meant everything to me. I’ll probably be a little bit emotional before the game [Saturday], but you know, we got a big game ahead of us. So I’ll try to shut off the emotions before the game, but it means a lot to me.”

On Saturday at 7:00 p.m., Yale hosts Princeton, who also clinched an Ivy Madness berth Friday, for Senior Night.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu