MEN’S BASKETBALL: No. 2 Yale advances to Ivy Madness championship with 67–61 win over No. 3 Penn
Saturday’s semifinal featured a scoring battle between the Ivy League’s top two scorers, Yale guard Azar Swain ’22 and Penn’s Jordan Dingle. Yale’s defense gave it the extra edge, setting the Bulldogs up for a Sunday championship game with No. 1 Princeton.
Tim Tai, Staff Photographer
BOSTON — The Ivy Madness semifinal between No. 2 Yale and No. 3 Penn featured an offensive battle between the league’s top two scorers, Yale guard Azar Swain ’22 and Penn guard Jordan Dingle.
At Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion, Swain scored 25, guiding Yale as he has so many times this season, while Dingle, who averages over 20 points a game as the Ancient Eight’s leading scorer, dropped in 28. As Yale, which led for over 33 of the game’s 40 minutes, tried to extend its lead to double digits midway through the second, Dingle responded on the other end with three-pointers, backdoor cuts and successful takes to the hoop.
Overshadowed by the scoring duel was Yale’s defense, which delivered several late-game stops to secure the Bulldogs (18–11, 11–3 Ivy) a 67–61 semifinal win over Penn (12–16, 9–5) on Saturday afternoon in Boston. When an 8–0 run from the Quakers tied the game at 55 late in the second, the Elis’ defenders locked up, limiting Penn to six points and only two field goals over the final six and a half minutes of play. Penn shot just under 40 percent from the field and eight-of-26 on three-point attempts.
“We were going to go on our run, and I had confidence we would,” Yale head coach James Jones said postgame. “The guys stepped up and made some great plays, and we got stops on the offensive end. Penn does a lot of things offensively that are deceptive, and we were able to sniff out some of that stuff and guard it and get some stops that were really important.”
Yale forward Matt Knowling ’24 added 10 points and four assists for the Bulldogs while navigating around the basket for hook shots. For the Quakers, Penn center Nick Spinoso complemented Dingle, who launched 25 of Penn’s 58 field-goal attempts, with 14 points.
Swain, hoping to extend his long Yale career another day, played with precision and a sharp three-point shot, especially in the first half. The Bulldogs’ all-time leader in three-pointers made, Swain sank all four of his attempts from deep in the first. Shaking off tight defense from Penn guard George Smith for the course of the game, he entered the break with 16 points.
“Azar’s been our guy obviously all year, but he was extremely efficient tonight,” Jones said. “[His first-half shooting] sets the tone for us and adds some positive energy to our team and gives us an opportunity to take the lead … A lot of time, we go as he goes. We’re fortunate enough we have some other guys who can really contribute, but when he’s special, he’s special.”
After Yale point guard Bez Mbeng ’25 opened the scoring with a layup, two of those early Swain shots from beyond the arc helped Yale to a 10–4 lead. Swain spun around after the second before jogging back on defense, as Butch Graves ’84 — whose 2,091 career points still rank first in program history — stood up from his nearby courtside seat to pump his fist. Guard Matthue Cotton ’23 kept Yale perfect from deep to start with a three-pointer that made it 13–8 Elis five minutes in.
Yale guard and captain Jalen Gabbidon ’22 led the Bulldogs in scoring during both regular-season games against Penn, netting a combined 53 points across the two as he attacked the rim and finished creatively. But his counterpart, Penn guard and captain Jelani Williams, took away many of those opportunities in the first half Saturday. Williams forced Yale’s captain to turn the ball over four times, all in the first half, though Gabbidon settled in during the second half, scoring nine points after the break and collecting a game-high seven rebounds.
“They adjusted the way they played me,” Gabbidon said of Penn’s defense. “Most people would, considering the previous two games. But if it’s not my turn, it’s someone else’s. In the second half, I took the mentality of it’s not going to be me, so my job’s just to do everything else on the court — try to get as many rebounds as I can, play defense on Dingle, get some offensive rebounds, some putbacks, move the ball around.”
Gabbidon referenced a quote from New England Patriots football coach Bill Belichick: “Stats are for losers.”
“Whatever it took to win the game is what mattered,” Gabbidon added.
The Quakers took their first lead on a three from Spinoso, whose shot put Penn up 16–15 with 10:27 to play in the first. The half included five ties, but Yale gained a possession or two of separation as the two teams neared halftime. An assist from Gabbidon set up a two-handed dunk for forward EJ Jarvis ’23, and a strong take from Swain on Yale’s next possession gave the Elis a 29–24 lead. Dingle responded with a backdoor cut and layup for the Quakers. He led Penn with 13 points at the break.
The Bulldogs shot 50 percent from the field and five-of-eight from deep in the first and led 32–29 going into the second. They had split the regular-season series with Penn, losing on the road in Philadelphia before containing Dingle to 10 points and winning with a 32-point performance from Gabbidon when the two teams played in New Haven.
“I thought that was another really good college basketball game,” Jones said to begin his postgame remarks. “I thought two teams fought really hard, very physical game … The energy you felt in the building, the game going back and forth, the game just being really well played by both teams. Two teams that have a desire to achieve something and doing everything you can to achieve that — that’s what you want to see.”
Yale soon reached its largest lead of the game early in the next half. Cotton drilled a three to make it 44–35 five minutes in. Penn head coach Steve Donahue, who along with starting guard Smith missed the Quakers’ final regular-season game because of COVID-19 protocols, called a timeout after the shot. (Donahue spent much of the week leading up to Ivy Madness on Zoom, going over film with his players virtually and watching a live stream of practice while texting Penn’s assistant coaches.)
Dingle scored 15 of Penn’s 32 points in the second and seemed to capitalize on a scoring opportunity every time Yale threatened to push its lead into double digits midway through the second. After a Cotton jumper increased Yale’s lead back to eight, 50–42, Dingle stepped behind the three-point line and pulled up for a slightly off-balance triple, keeping Penn within five points with twelve minutes to play.
Two straight threes from Spinoso and Penn forward Max Martz later cut the deficit to 55–53, and the Quakers entered the under-eight media timeout with momentum. With the score tied at 55, Penn assistant coaches ran out to slap players’ hands on their way back to the bench.
Swain said during the timeout, Yale players refocused on staying together and sticking to the program’s basketball principles: rebounding, defending and sharing the ball. He added toughness to that list of Jones’ three core pillars of emphasis. Amid the postseason atmosphere in Boston — with Penn fans cheering loudly, team bands on one baseline, cheerleaders on the other and a large collection of photographers dispersed between the two — Yale turned its attention inwards.
“My whole life I’ve had to practice patience really,” Swain said. “Getting to this position has just been through work and patience, praying that it would all work out and just trying to stay true to who I am. In this case, we’re just trying to stay true to who we were. Be patient with the moment. It’s a tie ballgame at that point … It’s so crazy — you hear all the fans — but really it’s just 0–0. In spots like that, we’re comfortable.”
Yale strung together what it calls “a kill” — three straight defensive stops — a minute after the timeout. On offense, Swain hit two free throws, sank a three-pointer and converted an extremely difficult fadeaway jumper on the baseline after driving to his right around Smith to make it 62–57 with three minutes to go.
Dingle quickly claimed a midrange jumper for Penn on the other end, but when Penn was still down three going into the final minute, the Quakers could not find a bucket on offense. Dingle, Martz and Penn guard Clark Slajchert all missed threes in the last minute, while a Dingle turnover with 11 seconds to play — an official review gave Yale the ball after it bounced out of bounds — sealed the Bulldogs’ victory.
The Yale Precision Marching Band and cheerleading team both traveled to Boston for the Ivy Madness semifinal matchups and were present at the Yale-Columbia women’s semifinal Friday night and the Yale-Penn men’s semifinal Saturday afternoon. Yale College Dean Marvin Chun took in both games courtside, while University President Peter Salovey joined him on Saturday. A small contingent of younger Yale alumni crowded behind them in the wooden bleachers.
Other spectators included James Jones’ brother Joe — the head men’s basketball coach at Boston University, who sat among other friends and family of the program sitting directly behind the Yale bench — and Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, a Harvard men’s basketball alumnus who was honored in the second half as a 2022 Legend of Ivy League Basketball.
No. 1 Princeton (23–5, 12–3) edged No. 4 Cornell (15–11, 7–7), 77–73, in the first semifinal in a riveting, fast-paced game.
With an automatic bid to March Madness on the line, the Bulldogs will face the Tigers in Sunday’s championship game, which will air on ESPN2 at noon.
Update, Mar. 12: This story has been updated to include a full recap of Saturday afternoon’s semifinal.