Down by one to the Ivy League’s number one team with just 3.4 seconds remaining in the game, head coach James Jones reached deep into his bag of tricks.
Yale inbounded the ball across the court to guard Miye Oni ’20. The sophomore guard collected the pass and drove to the basket before dishing it to forward Paul Atkinson ’21, who finished a layup as the buzzer sounded to hand Penn just its second conference loss of the season.
As the Quakers walked off the court, the referees called the dejected team back and put a final .3 seconds onto the game clock. But it was a mere formality at that point. Penn missed its last-ditch heave, and the Elis celebrated an 80–79 win.
“We’ve lost a few games where we’ve been in control and it’s nice to this one this way,” head coach James Jones said. “[It’s nice] to be able to execute the right way, and that play is something that we’ve done in practice. We’ve probably gone over it two or three times this year so the guys knew it going into it and it worked perfectly.”
Atkinson has been no stranger to success against the Quakers this season, as the first-year big man scored 20 points and added 13 rebounds in the teams’ first matchup. But the rookie’s game-winning shot was certainly the biggest one of his young Yale career thus far.
The Quakers came flying out of the gates and looked very much the part of the best team in the Ivy League. Behind a quick seven points and two assists from Penn’s lone senior starter, Darnell Foreman, the visitors opened up an early double-digit lead in John J. Lee Amphitheater. Caleb Wood hit three consecutive 3-pointers, and Penn was firmly in control.
With 5:47 remaining in the first half, the Quakers had a 33–21 advantage. But Yale’s defense found its rhythm, holding the Quakers to just two points the rest of the way. At the half, the Bulldogs trailed by just one point.
The second half was close throughout, with Yale taking its first lead at the 16:56 mark. Guard Trey Phills ’19 hit three key 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes and finished with 24 points to lead the way, and Oni scored 23 points and collected 12 rebounds. In the final moments of the game, however, Penn nursed a slight edge, which turned the final 60 seconds into a tense free-throw fiasco.
After a series of trips to the charity stripe for both sides, Yale had possession with seven seconds remaining and a three-point deficit. But rather than letting the Elis attempt a game-tying shot, Penn head coach Steve Donahue opted to foul Oni and send him to the line with 3 seconds to go.
Oni made the first free throw and tried to miss the second, but his shot found the bottom of the net. Now needing to foul or cause a turnover, Yale received a game-changing play from guard Azar Swain ’21. The rookie deflected an entry pass off of Foreman and earned one final possession for his team, setting the stage for Atkinson’s heroics.
“Azar made an amazing defensive play to get us the ball back and that shows a lot of heart and grit,” Oni said. “That’s what we preach in practice all the time. We have two freshmen making amazing plays down the stretch and that pays testament to our coaching staff, our whole team chemistry and how we play as a unit and get everyone along quickly.”
After starting the Ivy League season 2–4, Yale has won six of its past seven games. The Bulldogs will travel to Penn’s Palestra next week for the Ivy League Tournament.