Courtesy of Drew Dummer

PROVIDENCE — The final seconds dragged on in the Yale men’s basketball team’s first close finish since November, but the Bulldogs kept their lead to close out a three-point win over Brown Monday night.

Yale (8–8, 2–0 Ivy), which was up by 14 midway through the second half, saw its edge nearly evaporate late in the game as Brown (9–11, 1–4) forward Tamenang Choh led the Bears on a 15–3 run that put his side within one with 46 seconds to go. Yale led 64–61 entering the final 20 seconds, which featured seven substitutions, four free throws and three timeouts, including two back-to-back full timeouts that each head coach called when Brown had a chance to tie the game with 19 seconds left. The Bears were looking for first-year guard Kino Lilly Jr. to drill a three-pointer off an inbounds play, but the shot rimmed out. Yale was then fouled in a chaotic rush for the rebound and forward Matt Knowling ’24 hit one of his two free throws to extinguish any chance of Brown completing the comeback.

In closing out the 66–63 win, the Bulldogs overcame a career-high 30 points from Brown star Choh and several missed free throws in the second half, allowing them to stay undefeated in the young Ivy season and notch their first set of consecutive wins against Division I opponents this season. 22 points from guard Azar Swain ’22, the Ivy League’s leading scorer, and another 15 from captain and guard Jalen Gabbidon ’22 paced the Elis.

“I just told the guys, I can’t remember the last time we had to win a close game,” Yale head coach James Jones said outside the visitor’s locker room at the Pizzitola Sports Center before bussing back to New Haven.

Yale captain and guard Jalen Gabbidon ’22, who scored 15 points Monday, shoots over Brown guard Dan Friday. (Courtesy of Drew Dummer)

Yale’s last game decided by three points or less occurred all the way back on Nov. 23, when the Elis fell to Southern Utah in overtime, 88–85.

On Monday, tension elevated in the final minutes, as the Rhode Island crowd of 525 — Brown continues to allow the general public to attend games wearing masks — started to envision a come-from-behind finish. Choh, who as a graduate student is taking advantage of the Ivy League’s graduate eligibility exception for senior athletes who graduated at the end of a canceled year of competition last spring, electrified fans when he rebounded and dunked his own free throw miss with two minutes to go, cutting Yale’s lead to 60–59. The Bulldogs were up 59–46 at the under-eight media timeout.

Fouled by Brown guard David Mitchell on Yale’s next possession, Swain sunk two key free throws to keep the Elis ahead 62–59. A put-back finish from forward EJ Jarvis ’23 provided some more breathing room with 32 seconds to go, setting up the three-point attempt that Lilly Jr. missed coming out of back-to-back timeouts about ten seconds later.

“We work on [late-game] situations in practice,” Knowling said. “I think it’s just taking practice reps seriously, and it’ll translate to the game. Coach had a bunch of confidence in us to go and finish the game, and we went and got the win.”

Guard Eze Dike ’22 finished with a plus-minus of plus-six, second best on the team behind guard Matthue Cotton ’23 and his plus-seven. (Courtesy of Drew Dummer)

Despite finding its way to the free throw line often, Yale shot just 12 of 23 from the stripe in the second frame. The Bulldogs entered the bonus less than nine minutes into the second half and crossed into the double bonus with six minutes to play, allowing them to shoot a pair of free throws on any common foul the rest of the game.

But much to the glee of Brown fans, they did not convert the shots at their usual clip — in a heavily-advertised promotion, consecutive Yale misses at the line earned attending fans a free 24-ounce drink at New England coffee shop Aroma Joe’s.

“If we make some free throws down the stretch, which would have been key for us, instead of winning by three, maybe you win by 10 or 12 because you’re making free throws,” Jones said.

Strong starts to both the first and second half made those misses irrelevant in the end. To open the game, Yale jumped to an early 7–2 lead and was up 18–10 after a three-pointer from guard Matthue Cotton ’23 six minutes into the game.

“I thought our guys came out with really good energy,” Jones said. “We’ve been feeling pretty good about ourselves the last few days of practice and what we’ve done, and guys had a charge. And we’re starting to look for each other more, starting to feel comfortable with each other and believe in each other … It’s more of the Yale basketball I’ve coached in the past.”

From left to right, guards Bez Mbeng ’25, Matthue Cotton ’23 and Azar Swain ’22 in the first half. (Courtesy of Drew Dummer)

Entering the contest, Brown had made defense its main strength. The Bears were two-point favorites in Las Vegas entering the game, leading the Ancient Eight in adjusted defensive efficiency as well as blocks and points allowed per game. Their senior forward Jaylan Gainey also tops the conference in blocks per game; the tallest player on the court at 6-foot-9, Gainey swatted three shots in the first half and five over the course of the evening. He shared the 2020 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year award with Gabbidon.

But Yale scored the ball effectively early in both halves. At the under-12 media timeout in the first, Yale was shooting fifty percent from the field and had hit three of its five attempts from deep, including two from Swain.

“Hey, they have 18 points in less than seven minutes,” Brown head coach Mike Martin could be heard telling the five Bears on the court early in the first half. “Less than seven, white. 18 points,” Martin emphasized, referring to his team’s white jerseys.

A 7–0 run highlighted by a Gainey block and Choh three helped Brown take the lead back in the first, but a Swain finish at the hoop over Lilly Jr. put Yale up 35–32 at the halftime break. Brown scored more than 40 percent of its first-half points — 13 of 32 — from the free-throw line. Choh found nine of his 12 first-half points from the stripe.

Yale head coach James Jones, left, and assistant coach Justin Simon ’04 walk towards the locker room at halftime. (Courtesy of Drew Dummer)

For the third straight time this season, Jones started rookies Knowling and guard Bez Mbeng ’25 on Monday night. Both rewarded his decision during this first weekend of Ivy action. After contributing 17 points and 8 rebounds in Yale’s league-opening win over Cornell on Saturday, Knowling grabbed a new career best of 10 rebounds at Brown. Cotton and guard Eze Dike ’22, who started for nearly the entirety of Yale’s nonconference slate, were still productive off the bench, finishing with the two best plus-minuses on the team.

Mbeng played the best game of his young college career against Brown, finishing 28 minutes of action with eight points, four rebounds and three steals, all career bests. Complimenting his defense, Jones said “today was a breakout game for Bez.” 

Yale locked up to start the second, letting Brown score just 11 points in the first ten minutes of the half. Despite Choh’s success, Brown as a team shot only 36.4 percent from the field. 

“I take pride in my defense,” Mbeng told the News. “I just want to stop the man in front of me, let everybody know, really just make a statement on defense.”

From left to right, Yale forward Yussif Basa-Ama ’24, Yale guard Azar Swain ’22 shooting over Brown guard David Mitchell and Yale guard Jalen Gabbidon ’22 driving on Brown forward Jaylan Gainey. (Courtesy of Drew Dummer)

Monday’s game was one of six Ancient Eight men’s and women’s basketball games that took place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. After a local student from the Moses Brown School played a rendition of the national anthem on his trumpet, the teams held a moment of silence in honor of Dr. King and fist-bumped at center court.

The league plans to make MLK Day games a fixture of the new conference schedule format. Both squads wore the Ivy League’s “8 Against Hate” warmup shirts before the game.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to feature Ivy League basketball on such an impactful day,” Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris said in a video posted to the league’s Twitter on Monday. “When we were developing our new basketball schedule, the Ivy League athletic directors and coaches decided that it was important to showcase the Ivy League’s commitment to diversity and how our values match those espoused by Martin Luther King.”

Yale visits Penn (6–12, 3–2) next on Saturday.

Update, Jan. 18: This story has been updated to include a full recap of Monday night’s game.

William McCormack covered Yale men's basketball from 2018 to 2022. He served as Sports Editor and Digital Editor for the Managing Board of 2022 and also reported on the athletic administration as a staff reporter. Originally from Boston, he was in Timothy Dwight College.